Tamil Knot - Super Kings in Tamil Nadu politics: Promises in search of mythical glory

Evoking the glory of past kings and promising the return of their golden age of rule is a growing trend of suspicious currency in Tamil Nadu's politics.

Is good old monarchy at odds with modern liberal democracy? It should be, as one may assume, at least in a state like Tamil Nadu where the defining political principle has been 'self-respect'. But the prevailing reality is an earnest bid by some politicians to garner public support by walking people down the garden path to an imagined bygone era of royal glory and valour, what with modern technology widening the reach of such drivel.

Though top honchos of a political party, having a caste outfit image that it has been trying desperately to shed, have been calling themselves as descendants of rulers - Aanda parambarai, in Tamil - to give its supporters a false sense of pride for quite some time, the latest politician to join the bandwagon is Seeman, the self-styled Tamil nationalist, who is taking the royal fetish to new heights, nay lows.

Seeman's 'Naam Tamizhar' party, run on the principles of Tamil nationalism, contested, for the first time, all the 232 seats that went to polls in the 2016 elections to the State Assembly and got just 1.07%  votes which is less than NOTA's 1.31% and BJP's 2.86%. But then, today's technology has been popularising his bombastic speeches to a wider audience, particularly the Tamil youth caught in ideological conflicts and identity crisis.

The indomitable Tamil Nationalist gives such a youth a 'Tamil' identity and tells him, through his emotionally-charged spiels, that he lost his greatness because the state has been under the rule of outsiders so far. So for the 'Tamil' to regain the lost glorious past - exquisite palaces, green pastures, shimmering ponds, home grown organic food, traditional herbal medicine, hassle-free life and valiant warriors who conquered the world for their benefit - Seeman should be elected as Chief Minister.

Once he is elected, in one stroke, he will change Tamil society topsy turvy: There will be no toll gates, toddy (the juice extracted from Palmyrah palms) will be the national drink, goat grazers, agricultural workers and people doing menial jobs in the rural sector will be declared as government employees and paid monthly salaries from the state exchequer and so on.

Seeman's fantastic ideas for the future growth of Tamil Nadu, however, should not be confused with the modern urban dweller's disillusionment with the fast-paced lifestyle in the concrete jungle and his high dependence on technology. When Seeman romanticizes the imagined lifestyle of ancient people under the reign of a certain king of yore, the crowd that listens to his passionate speech goes berserk in its appreciation not because it visualizes a potential grandiose future but because of an underpinning of caste pride.

Yes, Seeman has an uncanny knack of invoking caste pride by suggesting that the particular king, about whose exploits he sings paeans, hailed from the caste that is dominant in the particular region. Of course, Seeman even traces recent history to identify distinguished leaders of the particular community to stir caste pride. So, he unearths greatness in different leaders at different places that was well enunciated in a recent meme - yes he gets trolled for his speeches in social media regularly - in which a question is raised by one character as to how the other, aspiring to win the votes of caste Hindus, would reach out to every community. The other character explains that he will praise Mathuramalinga Thevar for Thevar community votes,  'forest protector' Veerappan for Vanniyar votes, K Kamaraj for Nadar votes and 'forefather' Murugan for the rest of the community votes. So the question is asked how he would woo the Tamil youth lacking in 'caste wisdom' and the reply is: LTTE founder V Prabhakaran. 

Indeed, the glorification of past leaders and monarchs of Tamil Nadu has been done by many other organizations that have come up with the name of the icon itself and all of them play politics by mobilizing people for various reasons. But what has happened in the process is the creation of the 'Super Kings', about whom we now hear glowing tales of conquests, humanism, administrative acumen and such lofty qualities that no history book ever told us. The Tamil kings now have a halo over their gleaming crowns and their swords glisten with blood stains of all those who were opposed to the Tamil people. And some leaders want the crown and sword to be handed over to them by the cheering crowds that turn up to hear them out.      

(G Babu Jayakumar is a senior journalist based in Chennai.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)