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In Tamil Nadu, murmurs of state bifurcation provoke a backlash

Tamil Nadu is witnessing a political debate on whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)‘s latest political project is to bifurcate the state. These concerns were triggered when the party released profiles of newly appointed union ministers last week, where it had referred to the party’s outgoing Tamil Nadu chief L Murugan as hailing from Kongu Nadu.

This is at odds with the position of all political parties in the state. Even the state’s BJP leaders have not taken any official stance on the controversy except for making generic statements that if people desire a separate Kongu Nadu, then it’s the government’s duty to fulfil it.

What is Kongu Nadu?

The western region of Tamil Nadu is colloquially and popularly called Kongu Mandalam, meaning Kongu region. It derived this name from the Kongu Vellala Gounder community that is dominant in this region.

The western belt comprises districts of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Nilgiris, Salem, Namakkal, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. The region finds mention in ancient Tamil literature such as Silappathikaram and poems from the Sangam era.

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In today’s context, this is a highly industrialised region with several small and medium businesses with immense economic and political representation.

Political base

The Kongu region is considered the citadel of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami hails from Salem in this region. The AIADMK’s ally, the BJP, also enjoys considerable support from trader communities in the region.

After the 1998 bomb blasts during LK Advani’s visit to Coimbatore, a section of the population was sympathetic to the BJP. The party’s veteran leader CP Radhakrishnan was elected twice as MP from here following the bombing but he failed to retain the seat in the 2019 elections. However, in this year’s assembly election, two out of the four BJP MLAs elected in Tamil Nadu are from the Kongu region.

The AIADMK-led alliance with the BJP won 33 of the total 50 seats here. While the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) combine swept other regions in the state, the AIADMK alliance registered its best performance in the Kongu region.

The controversy

The BJP’s Coimbatore north district unit, last Sunday, passed a resolution urging the Centre to create a separate state of Kongu Nadu by reorganising Tamil Nadu but the senior state leadership has distanced itself from the issue.

It all began on July 7, when a profile of Murugan referred to him as hailing from “Kongu Naadu, Tamil Nadu”. On June 10, a vernacular daily published an unsubstantiated report that the Narendra Modi-led government was planning a bifurcation as a befitting response to the DMK government referring to them as the “Ondriya Arasu” in Tamil, meaning Union Government, and not “Madiya Arasu”, meaning Central government’.

On the same day, national president of the BJP Mahila Morcha, Vanathi Srinivasan, who is also the member of legislative assembly from Coimbatore, quoted ancient Tamil texts on social media to support the claim that Kongu was a separate geographical region.

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When reporters asked the BJP general secretary Karu Nagarajan about this, he responded, “If talking about Ondriya Arasu is their (DMK) wish, it is also the wish of people to call it ‘Kongu Nadu’.” BJP leaders have also cited the examples of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh being divided into smaller states.

But even its ally, the AIADMK, has criticised the BJP for spurring this controversy. “The people of Tamil Nadu will never accept seceding,” said AIADMK spokesperson C Vaigaichelvan. Without naming the BJP, AIADMK’s deputy convener KP Munusamy told reporters that mischievous ideas of division should not be entertained.

Since the controversy began, all political parties have reacted against it and dismissed the issue. “Nobody can divide Tamil Nadu,” Kanimozhi said over the weekend.

Will this fructify?

Until this controversy, there was no demand for a separate Kongu Nadu, although there were demands by the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) a decade ago to carve out Tamil Nadu’s northern districts into a separate state. PMK, a Vanniyar-caste-based party, has a large presence in the northern districts but this demand was never considered. A demand for Tamil Nadu’s southern districts to be a separate state called Pandiya Nadu was also raised in the past.

“But the Centre didn’t entertain it as they thought it would be an easy route for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” said political analyst Maalan Narayanan. “The BJP’s young turks are stirring up a controversy to put the DMK on the backfoot. Nothing else. It won’t happen.

Such demands have always come up, but people will not support such decisions.”

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