Trick is knowing the social nuances of Sanatana Dharma
However, the question arises as to whether the BJP might be boxing itself into a corner by equating Sanatana Dharma with Hinduism.
Tamil Nadu sports minister Udhayanidhi Stalin set off a national political storm this week after BJP leaders picked up on his speech against Sanatana Dharma at a conference on annihilating it. Udhayanidhi, son of DMK president and chief minister M K Stalin, said that Sanatana Dharma should be eradicated just as mosquitoes, dengue and COVID-19 should be. In Tamil Nadu, this rhetoric hardly raised eyebrows. It is the known stance of the DMK and some of its political and ideological allies. The BJP, which has a tiny footprint in TN, has repeatedly targeted the DMK as anti-Hindu.
However, the criticism has only found favour among the party’s sympathisers as the DMK, since its foundation, has stepped away from the harsher criticisms of religion and caste espoused by the Dravidar Kazhagam and Periyar. In TN, it is understood that the eradication of Sanatana Dharma is a call against a conservative and orthodox form of Hinduism which enshrines caste and restricts the rights of women and marginalised communities.
The BJP nonetheless took the opportunity and spun the speech as an instance of hate against Hindus at rallies in Rajasthan and other parts of north India. The speech was wielded against the newly formed INDIA alliance, of which the DMK is a key constituent.
Although Udhayanidhi remained unapologetic, other members of the alliance were clearly discomfited by the controversy, which gave the upper hand to the ruling party. Their disparate reactions reinforced the perception of the parties as a motley crew united only by their opposition to the BJP. Meanwhile, the DMK has not backed down from its stance but has taken pains to challenge the false allegation by BJP’s Amit Malviya that Udhayanidhi called for genocide.
However, the question arises as to whether the BJP might be boxing itself into a corner by equating Sanatana Dharma with Hinduism. While Hindus elsewhere might be unaware of southern India’s history of challenging Sanatana Dharma and Brahminical hegemony, they may not see the practice of their faith as confined by one particular tradition.
There is also the possibility that oppressed communities might find this view of their religion as one that leaves no room for them and their beliefs, thereby reinforcing the perception of the BJP as an upper-caste party. A perception that the party and the prime minister have successfully challenged over the past decade.