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Why Udhayanidhi Stalin should be as cautious as casual


Two years after Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for AlIMS, Madurai, ahead of the 2019 general elections, DMK prince Udhayanidhi Stalin was touring the southern temple city. “Here,” he said, holding a brick in his hand, “I’ve brought you AIIMS.” The brick was all he could find at the site of the premier medical college that the BJP promised to build, he said. That was the best superhit Udhaya ever gave his fans.

All of 45, Udhaya is unlike his ilk: No stiff dhoti, no plastic smile, just wry humour and plain talk. Clad in blue denim jeans and a white shirt with the DMK insignia emblazoned on his right chest, Udhaya is a refreshing change, more than in sartorial ways. By nature, he has his tongue firmly in his cheek, but his recent statements on Sanatana Dharma should be a reminder that at times he has to bite his tongue.

The first thing that struck me about this rising son was the ease with which he pulled legs. The first time I shared a dais with him he did it with Tamizhachi Thangapandian, who was moderating the Murasoli’s pavala vizha (75th anniversary). While speaker after speaker used customary encomiums to address each one on the stage and then the compere, Udhaya called her ‘Akka’, in a tone that was almost like asking one’s sister to bring tea. More recently, at an event organised by the Tamil Nadu Press Photographers’ Association, when Udhaya rose to speak, I said he could sit and speak since the podium was too low and close to the audience. He told the gathering that I want him to sit so that I would be included in the frame when the photographers click. We had a hearty laugh.

Like good humour, strong statements are all about timing. Udhaya got it horribly wrong when he said Sanatana Dharma is like mosquitoes, dengue and malaria, which should be eradicated, not just opposed. The very event titled ‘Sanatana Dharma Eradication Conference’ was ill-timed and an invitation to a political blunder, just when the DMK was trying to endear itself to Hindus by renovating temples. The BJP grabbed the opportunity and went overboard saying INDIA bloc leader M K Stalin’s son has given a call for genocide.

I am not a scholar of religions, but my learning is that Sanatana Dharma is more than the sum of its parts. I am in agreement with the ‘karma’, ‘yoga’ and ‘moksha’ part of it, but not with the interpretation of the ‘dharma’ part that says each one is destined to do some things because of the caste he/ she is born into. Anything that promotes casteism and teaches human beings to hate each other should be eradicated.

The problem is Sanatana Dharma – which is not a single text but a way of life that evolved through ages of spiritual awakening – is less understood by its self-proclaimed proponents than its critics. If Sanatana Dharma (we can endlessly debate on the name that implies ‘eternal duties’) is the one that teaches universal love, it has to be rescued from the Indian right wing. The controversy has made Udhayanidhi Stalin a household name in the Hindi heartland, but if the idea was to gain popularity, an academic debate would have done better.

While A Raja has taken upon himself the task of taking the barbs aimed at Udhaya by adding insults, the firefighting has been left to Hindu religious and charitable endowments minister P K Sekar Babu. It’s time Udhaya tempered his casualness with carefulness. And yes, don’t stop pulling that leg.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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