With Tamil Nadu Assembly elections around the corner, a desperate Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is making all efforts to regain power after 2011.
Supporters of the Dravidian ideology have thrown their weight behind the party and are employing some below-the-belt tactics.
These tactics have now led to one of India’s promising and leading information technology firm Zoho Corp’s owner Sridhar Vembu being attacked by a Twitter user, who reportedly owes allegiance to the DMK and claims to be an ardent follower of the late M Karunanidhi.
The user, who calls himself Savukku Shankar, has called Vembu names and has questioned the need for him to have a home in California, US.
There are a couple of reasons, apparently for the attack on Vembu.
One, he attended the annual gathering of Tamil magazine Thughlak, where its editor S Gurumurthy spoke of the need to defeat the DMK even at the cost of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seeking the support of Sasikala Natarajan.
Sasikala Natarajan, a former aide of the late All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo J Jayalalithaa, is currently serving a jail term at the Bengaluru Parappana Agrahara Central Prison for amassing wealth disproportionate to her known source of income.
The former aide of the late Jayalalithaa had attempted to take over the AIADMK and become the chief minister in 2017 but her efforts failed after the Supreme Court convicted her in a disproportionate assets case.
She has since been expelled from the AIADMK and is set to be released from prison over the next few days. Gurumurthy’s comment was in the context of the estimation that she would be able to garner the votes of the Thevars, a community that dominates southern Tamil Nadu, and to which Sasikala belongs.
Vembu has reportedly attended meetings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and it could be an additional factor to trigger the unjustified attack.
The other reason for Shankar’s tirade could be that Vembu belongs to the Brahmin community, a favourite punching bag for the DMK whenever it has been desperate to hold on to power or return to power.
The DMK’s tactics of attacking a particular community date back to the late 1960s when it targeted Keralites since the late M G Ramachandran (MGR) emerged as a threat to the party, especially to the late, M Karunanidhi.
At that time, tea shops that were mostly run by Keralites bore the brunt of the attacks by the DMK cadre.
MGR went on to launch the AIADMK, which kept the DMK out of power for three straight elections before a split in the former enabled Karunanidhi to become chief minister again in 1989.
In 1989, knowing that its grip on the electorate was slipping, the DMK and the Dravidar Kazahagam (DK) launched physical attacks on the Brahmin community with the DK calling for cutting of the janeu/poonal (the sacred thread).
One of the victims of such an attack was the then Thanjavur correspondent of national English daily The Hindu, whose poonal was cut.
The DMK had also attacked the late Jayalalithaa using the caste platform as she also belonged to the forward community. However, it was unsuccessful since Jayalalithaa proved to be an astute politician and she stormed to power in 1991 as leader of a unified AIADMK.
The latest attack on the Zoho founder on Twitter seems to be a part of these tactics, though the DMK now relies on a Brahmin, election strategist Prashant Kishor, to return to power.
What Shankar has tried to sweep under the carpet in the Vembu episode is how Zoho Corp has made a mark in the global IT world, while the founder himself is rendering yeoman services in Tamil Nadu’s picturesque Tenkasi town.
In particular, he is making efforts to improve the conditions of schools in poor areas as part of his various initiatives.
In fact, Zoho has opened an office in Tenkasi to help talented rural IT graduates to get jobs.
In fact, Vembu has shifted to Tenkasi from the US and moves around in a bicycle around villages in Tenkasi, sporting a spotless white veshti (dhoti).
On the professional front, every three out of five of the Fortune 500 companies in the world are its clients. The company has set up offices across the globe, starting with Australia to the US.
Some of its products are direct rivals to top IT firms such as Microsoft.
More importantly, in the current scenario when fears are being expressed over the use of WhatsApp, Zoho has come out with its own app 'Arattai' ('chat' in English) that has earned praise from the critics.
Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president and former Karnataka IPS official K Annamalai tweeted that Vembu must be “doing something very right and must be a strong nationalist” for this (the attack) to happen.
On Twitter, Shankar and the DMK cut a sorry figure as the attack on Vembu was termed as a “crass casteist remark” and one that “parading ignorance”.
On his part, Vembu has chosen to downplay the attack with a telling tweet in which he said he was ignoring the abusers but challenging them to build companies to compete with Zoho.
This morning (19 January), Vembu tweeted that he saw love and affection and “absolutely no hostility of any kind” following the episode.
The Zoho founder said that he had received enormous “outpouring of love” and he had never received the kind of hate encountered on media like Twitter.
He said the attack only made him strengthen his resolve than weaken it.
The latest attack on Vembu is but an extension of the Dravidian parties’ attack on a particular community that only exposes their helplessness and inability to convince the people of the state to vote them back to power.
That the DMK has not chosen to comment or distance itself from this episode only strengthens the suspicion that it perhaps backs such tactics.
In fact, when Tamil movie superstar Rajinikanth toyed with the idea of entering politics before backing out on health grounds, the DMK and its allies called it a “Brahminical agenda” since S Gurumurthy was seen as the one strongly pushing for the actor’s political entry.
The attack on Vembu, then, is only the DMK’s decades-old tactics and exposes its desperation to regain power. And it will not shy away from any tactics to ride back to power.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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