Vaiko’s Conversion Story And What It Tells Us About Contemporary Dravidian Politics
Tamil Christain evangelist says Vaiko converted to Christianity. Vaiko denies.
But what does one make of the fact that the evangelist sought to make such claims in the first place?
In a video that went viral, popular Christian evangelist in Tamil Nadu, Mohan C Lazarus, claimed that Vaiyapuri Gopalsamy, popularly known as Vaiko, had converted to Christianity along with his entire family. Vaiko, originally a firebrand Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, split from the party in 1993 over succession issue and formed his own political outfit. A staunch supporter of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and separate Tamil identity, Vaiko would often launch diatribes threatening Indian unity whenever Tamil Nadu had an issue with neighbouring states. Bred in typical Dravidian political culture, Vaiko is well acquainted with select verses of Tamil classics and is seen as a scholar by his cadre. Despite continued political reverses and allegations of him working solely against the DMK, Vaiko enjoys the support of a dedicated cadre, particularly in the southern part of Tamil Nadu.
There have been persistent rumours for many years that he, along with his family, had converted to evangelical Christianity. No one had ever asked Vaiko about these allegations, not even the Hindutva brigade. With the surfacing of the Lazarus video on social media, the issue has come to the fore. Here is the transcript of the video:
Mohan C Lazarus: Say ‘hallelujah’ (crowd ‘hallelujah’). In Tamil Nadu, the leader of a political party Vaiko and his entire family, his wife and his children, have been baptised and saved. Say ‘hallelujah’ (crowd: ‘hallelujah’). As Vaiko is a political leader, he has not openly declared this fact. But he believes in Jesus and reads Bible twice a day. He confided in me that he reads Bible in the morning and in the night. He reads Bible without fail every day. He asked me one day, how he should pray? I explained to him how he should pray and how god will answer him. He had agreed to pray the way I have explained it to him. So now we have a political leader with us who believes in Jesus and obeys the diktats of Jesus. Say ‘hallelujah’ (crowd: ‘hallelujah’). The same way Jesus would touch every political leader. For this, we have to pray. His (Vaiko’s) daughter and son-in-law are in America, where they are doing evangelism.
With this video going viral and most of his dedicated cadre being Hindus, Vaiko was forced to give an explanation. Vaiko said he had asked Lazarus for an explanation and the latter answered him by saying, it was a video of a private gathering which had been made public.
According to a The Hindu report, Vaiko categorically denied being converted to Christianity: “I am not a Christian. I respect all religions and my daughter-in-law has a puja room in which you can see images of all gods.” He also claimed that he and his brother "regularly contribute to the maintenance of the Vinayagar temple” in his native village.
Incidentally, Vaiko and N Ram of The Hindu had shared the dais with Jegath Gasper Raj, a Catholic priest close to DMK during the launch of his Thiruvasagam oratorio, composed by music maestro Ilaiyaraja. (Ilaiyaraja, a deeply spiritual person and a devotee of Ramana Maharishi later fell out with Gasper Raj). Vaiko claimed that the immensely popular spiritual Saivaite hymn did not belong to any specific religion, while the Catholic priest claimed that he discovered ‘his’ god in the Saivaite hymns. Vaiko has always been a priced Dravidian trophy in the contest between Catholic church and charismatic evangelism in appropriating Tamil Hinduism.
Vaiko himself, by his past behaviour and attitudes towards such issues, has displayed a definite pro-Christian bias and an aversion to the Hindu culture. For example, in 2013, he stated that he could not accept "even one per cent the AIADMK government calling the Adam’s Bridge as Ram Sethu’. Vaiko has also, for many years now, regularly attended conventions organised by Lazarus. But to be fair, the trend is not specific to Vaiko. Other Dravidian party leaders, including M K Stalin and late Jayalalithaa have flaunted in public their proximity to Christian organisations. Vaiko has been a regular invitee to events held by Jesuit organisations, which are considered heretical by puritanical evangelicals like Lazarus.
The evangelist in question, Lazarus, has always worked with a clear political vision. He has consistently asked for ‘prayer crusades’ against Hinduism in the form of propaganda. This happens throughout Tamil Nadu. After amassing a lot of property and evangelists working in crucial areas of Tamil psyche, namely film industry and Dravidian politics, Lazarus never hesitates to descend into explicit hate propaganda. For instance, during the 2004 tsunami, he said the natural disaster occurred because of ‘idolatry and adultery’ which his Christian deity would punish as it is a ‘god of justice’.
His well-entrenched propagandists, who work in local newspapers, also publish his intentional distortions of Hindu festivals during Diwali. An example of this was when the southern districts’ edition of Tamil Murasu, an evening daily from the family of ‘Dinakaran’, a pro-DMK media group, on 14 October published a part of a booklet issued by Lazarus during the festival as a news item – pretending to be a greeting from a Christian evangelist for a Hindu festival – a typical farce of evangelical deception passed on as promoting secular harmony. The news report claimed that the real light of the world was Jesus and that Hindus should accept Jesus as the true light.
Evangelism in Tamil Nadu is steadily moving to the next level of making Dravidian politicians the vehicles of Christian evangelism. This involves two steps: one is the de-Hinduising of Tamil culture which is what the Dravidian politics has been doing without much success. Thus, even today, despite massive Dravidian propaganda of encouraging more conversions to Christianity, it has adverse political ramifications in Tamil Nadu. The second step is open Christian appropriation of Hinduism – with its specific Tamil nature, into Christianity. This is why news of Vaiko’s alleged conversion and denial is of interest.
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