DMK youth wing secretary and Tamil Nadu Youth Welfare Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin. (PTI)
Udhayanidhi, son of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and sports minister in his Cabinet, dropped an incendiary comment on the eradication of ‘Sanatana Dharma’ that sent Indian politics into a tizzy over the weekend. The outrage against a sweeping comment of this nature concerning the majority religion of the country, which may have more than a billion people who profess it, was bound to be widespread even if it was only political parties that are taking it up vociferously.
At its worst, the comments, made at a conference to "abolish Sanatana Dharma", may be deeply offensive to a section of people. True, the young political dynast did not say that he wished to eradicate the religious philosophy by committing genocide on the people who believe in it. However, the words are a borderline case that can be interpreted as hate speech.
Fundamentally, the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ means an "eternal way of life" and is commonly thought to enjoin certain religious and temporal duties as a believer though those who promote it assiduously today may be doing so to also serve their stated aims like Hindutva.
Hailing as he does from the first family of the DMK that embraces atheism but does not necessarily publicise it, Udhayanidhi may have an absolute right to his beliefs, or lack of faith in God. But, in taking up the cause publicly and in a politically incorrect manner by likening the religious philosophy of others to a disease like dengue, malaria or Covid, he is leaving himself open to becoming an object of hate in these particularly polarised times.
Additionally, an argument taken up by those stung by his remarks is that any eradication of ‘Sanatana Dharma’ must, like charity, begin at home as there are persons who are very close kin of the speaker who follow religious and spiritual practices and perform rituals on temple visits virtually every day. Such are the contradictions of the personal lives of their leaders that the DMK harbours certain ambivalence about propagating atheism as opposed to respecting personal religious beliefs.
It is a given that all Indian politicians, given the atmosphere of sycophancy that their position so easily engenders, must suffer the foot-in-the-mouth disease at some point or the other in their careers. The relative greenhorn descendant of a Dravidian major that decisively knocked out the Congress in Tamil Nadu 66 years ago may have embarrassed most the DMK’s staunch ally in the current political arena, the same Congress which, as a party, does not overtly oppose any religion, least of all that of the majority.
Quick to pounce on the opening given in the election season, the BJP has gone to town on this statement of intent of eradication of a religious principle. Far from recanting or resorting to the subterfuge of politicians who use the word "misquoted" to find an escape route, the Stalin scion stands by what he said. While doing so may suit his personal beliefs, he has, as a public figure, said something which, more than being insensitive, is potentially damaging to religious amity. At a fraught time, this is poor politics.