Chennai: The deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam of the state performed a special puja in his office in a bid to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. 

While a deputy chief minister being greedy for the chief minister's post is nothing new in Indian politics, what makes the puja special is that his party thrives on Dravidian ideology  that advocates atheism. Forget special pujas, the adherents to Dravidian politics are supposed to be non-believers. Or at least that is how it was envisaged in the first place. Founded by Periyar EV Ramasamy, the Dravidian ideology is supposed to be bulwarked on rationalism and denial of God.

But as it happens, the dilution began right from the days of Annadurai, who took over the mantle from Periyar EV Ramasamy, the founder of the parent party. And it soon evolved into a political outfit, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK).

Here we see how successive leaders have diluted the atheistic Dravidian core:

Annadurai led the split from the DK and formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), as Periyar EV Ramasamy controversially married Maniammai --- 40 years younger to him. Even in the early days of the DMK, Annadurai realised that hardcore atheism was never going to have an appeal in a state with people who, by and large, had a conservative outlook. Anna moved from absolute rejection of God, to a more liberal, 'ondrre kulam, orruvane devan' (one community, one God).

And that was just the start.

Annadurai was followed by M Karunanidhi, who, for sure, maintained his atheistic ‘cred’ staunchly. However, he had an extended family and their religious beliefs cast a shadow on his public posturing.

To be fair, Karunanidhi cannot be held responsible for his family members’ views or ideas, but when he made siren calls for atheism in public platforms, it sure sounded hollow when his words were not followed in his own house. Also, Karunanidhi’s atheism seemed more political and less a philosophical position in itself. While he vehemently baited Hindu beliefs, he kept quiet on other religious practices.

By the mid-point of career, Karunanidhi started sporting a yellow towel, which kind of became an albatross around his neck. While he maintained that it was just another towel (something that Tamil Nadu politicos wear in public), his critics claimed that the specific yellow colour was based on the recommendation of some godman. The fact that Karunanidhi’s original name was Dakshinamoorthy, who in the Hindu pantheon is a yellow-towel-sporting God, made the charge stick in some people’s eyes. Karunanidhi, in his last days, ended up writing a TV series on Ramanujar, a Vaishnavite saint.

MG Ramachandran, who followed Karunanidhi as the chief minister, never actually hid his theistic inclinations. He was a strong follower of Kollur Mookambika in Karnataka. But he never openly visited temples because it is a stigma to do so in the Dravidian ethos.

When he was unwell, his legion of followers, however, made votive offerings in temples, churches and masjids.

Because of his worship of Gods, some Dravidian scholars have stopped including the AIADMK in the Dravidian pantheon.

J Jayalalithaa, a Brahmin, was of course never a copybook Dravidian leader. She openly worshipped Gods, went to temples and also followed soothsayers and fortune-tellers offering her ‘advice’. Under her, other leaders in the party also came out of the religious closet and made bold their beliefs.

In fact, it was quite a drama in Tamil Nadu to see the ministers go from temple to temple praying for her release when she was jailed for corruption charges. Similar events played out when she was in the hospital fighting for her life.

The other ‘Dravidian’ parties are also no different.  Vijayakanth, of the DMDK, is an open believer and is not averse to sporting holy ash and kumkum on his forehead. An evangelist claimed that Vaiko of the MDMK had converted to Christianity and was reading the bible twice a day. However, Vaiko has denied the allegation though.

Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin is also avowedly a non-believer. But his wife Durga seems to be a regular visitor to many temples, and this has been used by Stalin’s critics to cause some embarrassment to him.

With many of the old-warhorses of Dravidian ideology passing away, the DMK, too, these days has many leaders, who are believers.

On the other side, the incumbent chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami does not hide his Hindu beliefs. He wears holy ash and he attends community feasts organised by the government on special occasions at a small Vinayagar temple in the KK Nagar area of Chennai.