On Tuesday, as the DMK leadership was battling hard to wriggle out the capital city of Chennai from the havoc wreaked by cyclone Michaung, his party MP from Dharmapuri, Dr DNV Senthil Kumar, made an unpleasant statement in the Lok Sabha while talking about BJP’s victory in the
just-concluded five state elections. Senthil Kumar’s statement on the Hindi-speaking states, which was expunged from the parliament records, triggered a row pushing DMK and its leadership into a huge embarrassment.
“People of this country should think that the power of this BJP is only winning elections, and mainly in the Hindi heartland states, what we generally call the —— states. The BJP cannot come to south India. You see all the results of what happened in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. We are very strong there. You can never dream of setting foot there,” Senthil Kumar said in the Lok Sabha during a debate on the Jammu and Kashmir reservation amendment bill, 2023.
Hours later, his party leadership in Chennai disowned his comment and asked him to apologise. DMK organisational secretary R S Bharati said, "Commenting on the results of the five state assembly elections, Dharmapuri Member of Parliament Senthilkumar used a term that could be misinterpreted. Upon learning this, the Honourable Chief Minister M K Stalin, the President of the Party, strongly reprimanded Senthilkumar’s choice of words."
Senthil Kumar’s comment dragged the DMK once again into BJP’s line of fire and its alliance partner Congress into a tight spot. No sooner had the BJP reacted, calling the DMK MP’s comments as "divisive" and trying "to create North-South division." The Congress distanced itself from the comment. "We respect the gaumutra. It is his own comments and Congress is in no way connected to it," said Adhir Ranjan Chowdury. And another INDIA bloc partner the Samajwadi party too termed it insensitive and said, "stop baiting Hinduism."
Rubbing the BJP or the uneasiness in the INDIA bloc was not the only reason for the DMK’s top leadership to react immediately. It was only a few months before Udhayanidhi Stalin had called for eradication of Sanatan Dharma, which led to an uneasiness in the INDIA alliance. Though the DMK leadership stood by him, the Sanatan Dharma comment seems to have had an impact in the just-concluded five state elections, where Congress faced a huge setback. The Sanatan Dharma comment by Udhayanidhi Stalin had actually caused a huge dent in the alliance.
For the age-old Dravidian party, which had always harped on the ethos of social justice, rationalism and secularism, Udhayanidhi talking against Sanatan Dharma was only in the lines of the party’s ideology. Apparently, the DMK has its roots in the Justice party and Periyar’s Dravida Kazhagam and a comment against Sanatan dharma was not against the ideologies of the party. But Kumar’s comments were totally against the fundamentals of the party and also taking a toll on DMK’s relationship with the Congress.
But here again DMK’s problem lies in balancing its own rationalist and secular ideologies with that of the changing scenario. Being part of a larger, national alliance, it is very hard for the DMK to defend itself as the voters across India are not for the social justice or the dravidian principles that are popular in Tamil Nadu.
Stalin should actually take a leaf out of his father’s way of handling the issues when the party was part of the NDA between 1999 and 2003. Incidentally Karunanidhi was always able to wriggle out of any controversies that rose against him and the DMK with regard to any comments against Hindus or Hindutva. For instance his comment on "Hindu means thief" turned into a controversy. When criticism poured in, Karunanidhi reiterated his interpretation and quoted Hindi Vishwa Kosh to justify the statement.
However, according to DMK insiders, Kumar’s comment did not come out of the blue and it raises many eyebrows in the party. Nevertheless the insiders also feel that his comments will have to be read in the context of various political developments- Prime Minister Modi’s audience to TR Baalu twice in Delhi, Rajnath Singh’s visit to assess the damages caused by then cyclone and centre’s immediate action to release relief funds to a state ruled by an opposition party.