Till a few years ago, all a politician had to do was deliver a fiery speech on Tamil nationalism and his job was done. He could bet a few in the crowd would go straight back and vote for him. ‘Tamil pride’ sure came in handy and M.G. Ramachandran and Karunanidhi were known to engage in lively duels on the subject.
But not anymore. Regional pride does get bandied about but the fire and fizz are missing. The DMK takes credit for the recognition of Tamil by the Centre as a classical language but that’s about it.
In fact, Karunanidhi — once virulently anti-Malayali — now promises a public holiday on Onam to woo Keralites close to the border. At Thalavady, the ancestral town of Kannada hero Rajkumar, DMK and MDMK leaders woo their voters in chaste Kannada.
At a public meeting in Salem, Karunanidhi blamed Jayalalithaa for “shattering Tamil pride”, adding that a defeat for the DMK would be a loss to Tamil Nadu. Not to be outdone, Jayalalitha’s new-found friend Vaiko, of the MDMK, retaliated by saying the “stranglehold” that the families of Karunanidhi and Maran had over the DMK was humiliating for the Tamils.
Now for the biggest irony: None of Tamil Nadu’s big lights are Tamil by origin. If Jayalalithaa is Kannadiga, Karunanidhi, Vaiko and Vijaykanth come from Telugu backgrounds. MGR was a Malayali. Social reformist E.V.R. Naicker, better known as ‘Periyar’, was a Kannadiga from Erode. Yet, they all swear by the Tamil cause.