Do Tamilians have more asmita than Kannadigas?

PRASHANT KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: It is three weeks since the results of the assembly elections in the five States tumbled out, signalling change in four States (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Pondicherry) and continuity in one (Assam).

Of the many post-facto buzzwords that I have heard on TV since May 13, one word stands out: asmita.

Asmita, loosely translating into pride.

Asmita, loosely meaning self-respect, self-esteem.

Several times over the last three weeks, the Janata Party gadfly Subramanian Swamy has invoked the A-word to drive home the presumed wisdom of the Tamil voter in kicking out the DMK family concern of M. Karunanidhi, and in ushering in Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK.

Dr Swamy’s point: the Tamil voter, urban and rural, was angry and disgusted with the bad image that the 2G scam that (as of now) is mostly populated with Tamil protagonists (A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Sadik Batcha and now Dayanidhi Maran, C. Sivashankaran & Co ) and Tamil outfits (Kalaignar TV, Sun TV) was bringing to the reputation of Tamil Nadu and Tamilians.

In other words, the Tamil asmita was in danger.

So, goes Dr Swamy’s reasoning, in spite of the elitist belief that country bumpkins are more tolerant of corruption, Tamilians voted to restore their asmita. And, by extension, have managed to do a damn good job of it by stumping pundits and pollsters and consigning DMK to less than a 10th of the size of the Tamil Nadu assembly.

The scoreline: Asmita 1, Arrogance 0.

Compelling as Dr Swamy’s contention is, the invocation of asmita—an oft-used word in the political vocabulary of the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi—has left me both confused and angry. And, frankly, as a proud Kannadiga, I have been tearing my hair out.

Reason: if the 2G scam and the accumulated loot was cause enough for Tamils to boot out the DMK in the name of their asmita, how come Kannadigas seem to be so much more insouciant of B.S. Yediyurappa‘s BJP government which has had more scams and scandals in its three years in office, albeit not of the same size?

How is it that Kannadiga asmita seems be unaffected by all the puerile antics of the BJP on display in the last three years—Operation Kamala, the resort and spa politics, the mining mafia, the rigged up confidence motions, the roadside dramas, the shameless samaveshas, the sex scandals of ministers, their financial transgressions, the church attacks, the attacks on pub-going girls—and all of it playing endlessly on televison?

And how is it that Kannadigas seem to hide their asmita and vote for the BJP in election after byelection, to the assembly, to the civic bodies, to the gram and zilla panchayats? On the day Karunanidhi was being booted out, the BJP was winning three by-polls held on the rotting carcass of Operation Kamala?

What do so such BJP election victories in the face of BJP non-performance tell us?

That the Kannadiga voter—numbed by silly TV megaserials—has lost the ability to think?

That the rural Kannadiga voter is wiser than we urban, educated Kannadigas think?

That she is is unaware of the damage that three years of BJP rule has caused to the image and reputation of Kannadigas and Karnataka on the national and global stage?

To Karunanidhi’s credit, at least his government could boast of some semblance of governance. Tamil Nadu ranks high on most indices and is easily among India’s developed States. Yediyurappa’s only achievements are in the mighty advertisements his government releases to keep the media happy.

So, what accounts for the easy run BJP is getting, around a mountain of corruption and comical inefficiency that it has erected in the “Gateway to the South”? Is it simply that Kannadiga asmita is unmoved and unattracted by the kind of alternative that the Congress and JDS present?

Or has “progressive” Karnataka been collectively brain-washed? Has it entered the hallucinatory Hindutva zone as Gujarat, whose denizens too seem completely blase about the damage that Modi’s regime is causing to the image of Gujarat and Gujaratis on the national and global scene?

Is it just possible, to take Subramanian Swamy’s argument forward, is it just possible that Tamilians value their asmita more than us, Kannadigas?

Or them, Gujaratis?

File photograph: The daughters and daughters-in-law of chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa perform arathi on him, after he won the vote of confidence in the legislative assembly, in October 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)

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