It was Tamil Nadu’s finest hour in international diplomacy, in hosting the Modi-Xi Jinping summit meeting at Mamallapuram. Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami rightly thanked Modi, on behalf of all Tamilians and Tamil Nadu, for having chosen the heritage site. Did Tamil Nadu roll out the red carpet in keeping with its culture and tradition in hospitality? Even High Court could not resist a quip or two that Chennai and Kancheepuram Districts were sporting a spotlessly clean look and several more such visits may do a world of good for cleanliness as godliness. Did it extend to the cleanliness in heart and mind, of every Tamilian?
That even such a question is posed, is a blot of the cultural ethos of TN. Dissent is the essence of democracy. Xi would have noted that Tibetan refugees were allowed to protest but moved out when they tried to break the cordon. India is different. We are a functioning democracy even if anarchic. There is no political freedom in China. We have a lot to be proud of.
It is all fine to contest Modi on his policy platform. Question his judgment to render Art.370 inoperable or keep Kashmir in lockdown mode. Take on Modi-Shah combine, all political guns blazing. Fine. But to troll #GoBackModi is surely not rooted in Tamilian culture, we wear on our sleeces. It is abhorrently untamilian, as it can ever get. Modi is the Prime Minister of India. He was coming to TN and hosting a prestigious summit, opening up the eyeballs of the world to our pride- Mamallapuram. He was coming to host a summit with the Chinese President, at a critical juncture when the geo politics and trade negotiations, the world over, was in not mere flux but turmoil, thanks to the chaotic ways of the maverick US President Donald J Trump.
Forgetting all the nuances and sobriety the occasion demanded of us, as Tamilians, there was a dedicated set of hate mongers indulging in a #GoBackModi retinue. Utterly shameful of them. They have dented the image of a welcoming Tamil Nadu. They may not care. But We The People do. The world was watching and noting that TN had no respect and regard- ignore reverence- for its own democratically elected Prime Minister. It did not jell well with anything and everything Tamilian. Left a bad taste in the mouth and hurt TN’s global image.
It is all very well to research and tell that 58% of online troll with the #GoBackModi emanated from Pakistan, 22% from India and only 2% from TN. This, to tell ourselves that we were not so bad after all. But, truth to tell, the very thought of asking Modi to go back, is antithetical to every attribute any Tamilian prides himself in or ought to. Surely, Chinese being far ahead of us, in any which way, on the digital network, would not have missed it.
It was Richard Nixon, the outgoing President of US who said, while resigning from his office, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you, don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”
No one knows it better than a Tamilian brought up on the lore of Sangam literature, Puranamuru, Aganamuru, Avvayyar’s Aathichoodi and Subramania Bharathiyar’s evocative poems et al. Of course, towering above all of them, is Saint Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukural .Valluvar is the presiding deity in the assertions on the nobility and virtues of a human being, community, city, State, Nation
Valluvar has devoted one Adhikaram for Virundhombal- Hospitality. And Modi was well informed enough to tweet this on the eve of his summit in TN. And then, he attired himself in Pattukarai Veshti and Angavastaram- typifying a Tamilian in celebratory mode, welcoming the Chinese Premier. Modi was highly respectful of the Tamilian culture and its moorings. He chose to become a Tamilian in TamilNadu and even gifted Xi with priceless artefacts imbued with Tamilian heritage.
Nevertheless, what did at least a few of us indulge in? Giving traction to the troll #GoBackModi. Our hate, no matter it was fair, just or misplaced, subsumed all our Tamilian values. We let hate take over our welcoming instincts. We were unmindful of the position Modi occupies or the solemnity of the occasion. We had our petty scores of perfidy to settle. They mattered more than our duty by our character as a Tamilian and cause of the occasion. We could not have conducted ourselves in a more shameful or demeaning manner than we could ever imagine was even possible. It was anything but Tamilian. That we celebrate hate is symptomatic of the divisive times we live in. It surely does not augur well for our progeny. That, it is OK to ask your Prime Minister to #GoBack, when he was here welcoming the supremo of the most populated and second biggest economy in the world, is worrisome? Shame on us, not plague.
Political differences are fine. Healthy dissent is welcome. We may even hate on policy differences. But do we need to let hate take precedence. Modi is the most popular leader, by far, in India. He is loved too. Yes, his Bhakts can be madly so and indulge in abusive trolls too. But all that surely does not give us, Tamilians, the handle to indulge in such despicable conduct, which does no proud to Tamil Nadu and its culture, as a welcoming State, which has taught the world and continues to teach it, on the precept and practice of Virundhombal, as the overarching virtue of any society.
We have failed us. We have failed Tamil Nadu. We have failed the Tamilian Culture. #GoBackModi does no good to Tamil Nadu’s hall of fame. The hate we exude will consume us in its wake. We are not this hate. Our culture is richer.
Modi may come, Modi may go. But what would remain is the hate culture we are spewing and spawning. It is not Tamilian. Let us become us, who we are. We don’t need to love Modi. We may not like him for what he stands for. But, surely, we don’t need to hate him, for after all we love to be Tamils, proud in our heritage.
It may be easy to be dismissive of the minority of ‘haters’, with this Kural-
உடைமையுள் இன்மை விருந்தோம்பல் ஓம்பா
மடமை மடவார்கண் உண்டு.
In the midst of all their wealth, it would be the most pitiable state of poverty indeed, if they do not find it in themselves to be hospitable to guests. Such men, in their hearts, exceedingly mean and deserve to be despised for their poverty in plenty.
Would it not enhance us as Tamilians, lending genuine pride in our culture to behave as in this Kural-
மோப்பக் குழையும் அனிச்சம் முகந்திரிந்து
நோக்கக் குழையும் விருந்து.
The poorer (not merely in financial faculties) the guest, the greater the responsibility of the host to make him feel welcome- to be treated more delicately than the most sensitive flower.
We may vote him or not. Let us not boot him. That is not us. Or Tamilian tradition and culture.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan, Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)