Can a newspaper story trigger a furious political debate about Tamil Nadu’s probable division by the Centre by carving its western districts into a separate state or Union Territory called “Kongu Nadu?”
After “Dinamalar”, a popular and pro-BJP Tamil daily bannered the story two days ago political leaders across party lines in Tamil Nadu are dubbing the move to ‘divide’ the state as nefarious and a politically motivated one. The state BJP is hedging it both ways – one section of its leaders say that the Centre has the power to create new states or UT and should consider it if the people demand it while another section rules out any such possibility.
Initially, everyone thought the daily was merely kite flying, something it had done a few months ago by touting its idea of Madurai as the state’s second capital and tried to build public support for it - before the then Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami shot it down. Many suspected the "Kongu Nadu" creation as a similar ploy by the daily to start a debate and drum of political and public support.
The trigger apparently was a bio-sketch of state BJP leader L. Murugan, when he was inducted into the Union Ministry recently, which said that he hailed from “Kongu Nadu” – in other words from the Kongu region of Western Tamil Nadu. The daily snatched this reference to hypothesize that the BJP was seriously considering a separate “Kongu Nadu” in view of its large support base there and that two of its four MLAs, the new Union Minister and the new state president K. Annamalai all hail from the region.
According to the daily, the Kongu region consisted of nine districts including Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Salem and Nilgiris in Western Tamil Nadu and accounted for ten Lok Sabha seats and 61 Assembly seats. If a few more adjoining districts are also attached a separate UT with 90 seats can be created, which would be more than what Puducherry presently has. And this region, which is an industrial and textile hub, would provide the ideal setting for the BJP’s growth in Tamil Nadu if it was spun off as a separate entity called “Kongu Nadu,” the daily wrote.
But the manner in which the DMK, some of its allies and other political parties protested against the idea showed that the proposal had hit a raw nerve. Right from DMK’s MP Kanimozhi to its leaders from the western region discounted any such division of the state. Its ally the CPM alleged that the BJP was fanning flames of separatism in the state. The DMK which fared poorly in the western districts during the recent Assembly elections has been trying to strengthen its base in this region by poaching leaders from the AIADMK and Kamal Hassan’s MNM including his former vice-president Mahendran. So a separate “Kongu Nadu,” if it happens, would drastically alter the playing conditions for the ruling party in a region where it is already weak.
But political observers feel that the BJP is tacitly supporting the “Kongu Nadu” theory to check the DMK’s recent and repeated reference of the Central Government as “Ondriya Arasu” (Union Government) in an attempt to dilute Delhi’s authority. The ruling party also got “Jai Hind” dropped from the latest Governor’s address to the Assembly. “If the DMK can flirt with separatism by trying to divide the country we will also talk about dividing the state. After all, the power to create a new state rests entirely with Parliament and states have no say in it,” pointed out a senior BJP leader.
The tit for tat by the BJP has clearly unnerved the DMK. More so as the DMK finds itself on a weak wicket on “Kongu Nadu” since one of its allies Eswaran, who won on the DMK symbol, heads the 'Kongu Nadu Makkal Katchi' and has been a votary of a separate “Kongu Nadu.” His past speeches to this effect are now being circulated on social media to bolster the theory. Also there have been demands for the bifurcation of Tamil Nadu into North and South, especially by the PMK whose base is restricted entirely to North Tamil Nadu. But these demands have found little traction in the past.
BJP spokesperson Tirupathy Narayanan pointed out that various regions in the state are tagged with the “Nadu” label like Kodanadu, Orathanadu, Varusanadu etc. “It only refers to an area and not to a separate country. The DMK said that no one needs to fear the use of “Ondriya Arasu” and insisted that it will continue to use it. Similarly, we will also keep using the term “Kongu Nadu” and no one needs to fear that it amounts to separatism,” he observed.