Chennai: In a state where a personality cult is considered political currency, both national parties Congress and BJP still chant veteran Congress leader Kumarasami Kamaraj’s name to try and score political brownie points.The state BJP has of late been more eager than the Congress to celebrate the former Chief Minister Kamaraj. Union MoS for shipping Pon Radhakrishnan hopes to bring his political boss Amit Shah to Madurai to celebrate the former AICC president’s birth anniversary, which falls on July 15.
Radhakrishnan’s justification for pursuing the Kamaraj cult may be surprising. He describes Kamaraj as “a leader of national stature, freedom fighter and great man.” Ironically, his party men were once accused of attempting to kill the late Kamaraj by setting fire to the building he was living in New Delhi then. State Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan, who once had a tiff with Karti Chidambaram over his “play down Kamaraj legacy” remark, recapped this bit of dark history, stating, “People who had attempted to set fire to the house Kamaraj lived in are now trying to claim his legacy. They (BJP) don’t deserve to utter his name even.”
He was quick to mention Kamaraj’s stint as AICC chief to appropriate the legacy of the reformist former Tamil Nadu CM who hails from the Nadar community, another majority community in terms of numbers after politically dominant Mukkalathors (in south), Vanniyars (north) and Gownders (west) who have been mostly shared between the two Dravidian majors. AIADMK is the most popular party among Gownders and Mukkulathors, while PMK enjoys a sizeable vote bank among the Vanniyars in the northern districts.
Despite the fact that Kamaraj deserves the celebration for the good governance he had delivered in his time, political scientists see no more than opportunistic politics and leadership vacuum in the two national parties in the state. Dravidian scholar K. Thirunavukkarasu reasoned, “Not only Kamaraj, BJP had no qualms in celebrating Ambedkar some time back. They need a people’s leader to mobilise the masses against mainly the DMK, which they consider is the greatest threat to their growth in Tamil Nadu. Their intent is to gain a foothold and gradually capture power in the Dravidian heartland.”
“They did not celebrate last year. Why this newfound love for Kamarajar now?” Thirunavukkarasu wondered, adding, “BJP as well as Congress do not have a leader worth calling Mr Clean in TN now. People who do not subscribe to his views, however, never questioned his integrity and hence they are reclaiming the Kamaraj legacy.”
Political scientist C Lakshmanan of Madras Institute of Development Studies described it as purely “opportunistic politics” and said, “In Tamil Nadu, they (Congress and BJP) do not have a charismatic leader, which is essential in vote bank politics. So they will use anything that gives even the simplest advantage. TNCC tries to appropriate Kamarajar’s legacy, hoping to bounce back from the continuous downslide it is suffering. Be it Kamaraj or Ambedkar, BJP will discard them after enjoying the benefits.”
With only a couple of days left for Kamaraj’s birth anniversary, it will be showdown time in Tamil Nadu with the two national parties vying with each other to stake a claim for the Kamaraj legacy or rather the Nadar vote bank which is up for grabs.