The desecration of the statue of revered Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar is an extreme reaction to a historical figure being dragged cynically into contemporary politics. The saffron brigade is to blame for setting off this ugly chain of events in its bid to appropriate yet another classical saint-poet from an ancient era. This seems to fall in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi making up for his home minister’s friction with Tamil by quoting ancient poet Poonkundranar and praising, at every turn, Tamil as a most ancient language. But in cloaking the poet with saffron robes and lending a secular and agnostic litterateur with religious symbols like the robe and a mark on the forehead, the Hindutva crowd were invoking the wrath of Dravidian Tamil Nadu, which is always quick to take offence.
Statue politics isn’t new to Tamil Nadu. The Marina promenade, Chennai’s pride, is dotted with statues paying homage to the luminaries of yesteryear, and elaborate memorials to recent film and political demi-gods like MGR, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. Mythology, folklore and even urban legends are so mixed up in this unique Tamil time warp that a statue of tragedienne Kannagi, the very definition of hell having no fury like a woman scorned, was shifted conveniently out of the way, for a while, as her statuesque angst seemed to point to Chennai. The state reveres its idols like Tiruvalluva and a host of greats including Ambedkar, that playing with public sentiment is fraught with the risk of adverse reactions. All that Tamils seek is a bit of respect for the hoary past. The saffronites need to assimilate their lessons, which should be easy enough if they read and understand Tiruvalluvar’s couplets, that are distilled wisdom in every pithy word.