Is BJP playing language tune to woo Tamils?

However, the BJP leaders also need to reorient their approach in Tamil Nadu, giving up their long-internalized linguistic preferences.

CHENNAI: Some recent developments both within the country and abroad have raised the poser in political circles here whether the BJP and the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi is taking the language route to win the Tamil hearts.

There has been much discussion and debate in the media, including popular Tamil television channels, arguing for a 'Yes' or 'No'. Even as saffron parties have opined that the anti-Hindi outbursts by the Dravidian parties attacking the imposition of Hindi by the Centre, does not really affect the elite - some BJP leaders have even pointed that people close to the DMK leaders run CBSE schools where Hindi has to be taught and where speaking Tamil in the campus is not encouraged-, the issue, nonetheless, has acquired a sharp focus in recent weeks.

This is for the simple reason that the DMK's political position, as also that of the ruling AIADMK is against any form of Hindi imposition and they resent any move to make Hindi the sole official language. This language row has a long history in Tamil Nadu since the late Premier of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, Rajaji sought to introduce Hindi in schools in the province in 1937.

Given the strong emotive undercurrents of the language issue in Tamil Nadu politics for decades, understandably, the BJP, which wants to set foot here, is also focusing on this aspect of late, say political observers. Hence, it is understandable that the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, has of late begun to acknowledge the uniqueness of Tamil as a classical language.

Mr. Modi's recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly wherein he had quoted the Tamil Sangam era poet, Kaniyan Poongundran's famous words, 'Yaadum Oore, Yaavarum Kelir (the whole world is ours and everyone our kin)' and following it up with his remarks when he came down to Chennai for the IIT-Madras convocation, wherein he recalled his statement made in the U.S. on Tamil being among the oldest languages of the world, and how his references to Tamil's ancientness had made Tamil a 'talking point' across USA now, are clearly pointers that the BJP is giving up its age-old only Sanskrit/Hindi preference view.

This came as sweet music to the DMK, with the party president M K Stalin calling upon Mr. Modi to take the next logical step to declare Tamil as one of the official languages of the Centre. The DMK's party organ, 'Murasoli' was neither disheartened by criticisms that the party "is doing politics with Tamil." "Yes, because we (DMK) took up the cause of Tamil, now everybody else is forced to acknowledge its ancientness, which is a victory for the party," the organ said.

The DMK, though, is skeptical of Mr. Modi embracing Tamil in a bid to win the hearts of the Tamil Nadu people, as the party organ also draws attention to the fact that Tamils are not so naïve to take the PM's "sweet words at its face value". If anything, the recent report on the Keeladi archaeology findings has all the more buttressed the long-held view of the Dravidian parties on Tamil's classical status.

However, the BJP leaders also need to reorient their approach in Tamil Nadu, giving up their long-internalized linguistic preferences. "They should first practice addressing people with the prefix 'Thiru' or 'Thirumathi' rather than suffixing every name with 'Ji'," says political analyst Mr. Durai Kurana. Going beyond the expediency of elections, the BJP should show real concern for the growth and development of the Tamil language and its culture if they cared for the language, he added.

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