Tamil Nadu Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin’s remarks on Sanatana Dharma, comparing it with diseases like malaria and dengue and calling for its eradication, has snowballed into the biggest political talking point, nationally.Udhayanidhi has refused to retract it or apologise for it, and has his party’s backing in the issue too.But the controversy around it has put Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) allies like the Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and Shiv Sena in a tight spot.The Congress now has to strike a balance of maintaining their alliance and doing damage control ahead of crucial Assembly elections.Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have alleged that through his remarks, Udhayanidhi has called for genocide of Hindus.Udhayanidhi reiterated his earlier comments and said Sanatana Dharma is against equality and that he was speaking about social justice.Though many Congress leaders in south India, including Karnataka Minister Priyank Kharge and MP Karti Chidambaram, have supported Udhayanidhi, party leaders in poll-bound states feel that this is a controversy from which they need to distance themselves.A source in the Congress said that with Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan in the offing, the party is not in a position to defend the DMK beyond a point.“In the Hindi belt, these issues resonate with the voters and the Congress cannot give another reason for the BJP to paint us as anti-Hindu,” a Congress leader said.In all the three states, the Congress is in a bi-polar contest with the BJP and is in a formidable position despite being incumbent in two of the states.An MP who belongs to one of the INDIA bloc parties told TNM that on September 4, AAP, TMC, and Shiv Sena leaders spoke to each other and conveyed that the politics that works for the DMK in Tamil Nadu will not work for them.“Their state politics cannot be made national politics,” the MP said.Following this, the TMC stated that it has no connection to the statements and their chief Mamata Banerjee said that religious sentiments should not be hurt.

Their spokespersons have called for retraction of Udhayanidhi’s statementShiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi also tweeted the same.The DMK is an important ally for the Congress and the party is not in a position to dictate terms to them.With the 2024 Lok Sabha elections approaching, the INDIA alliance, particularly the Congress, is relying on the DMK winning a large share of Tamil Nadu’s 39 seats.In 2019, the DMK alliance won in 38 of them and a repeat of the performance will give INDIA a much-needed impetus.For the DMK, Udhayanidhi’s statements are not a deviation from their stated ideology.Social justice and eradication of the caste system have been pivotal to the party’s ideology for decades and many of their tall leaders have repeatedly echoed similar sentiments.Karnataka Minister Priyank Kharge, who is also the son of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, also advocated what Udhayanidhi said.On Monday, Priyank said that any religion that does not guarantee equality is like a disease.The BJP has been digging into past statements by Congress leaders who have spoken against the caste system in Hinduism.And a majority of the national media has been compliant in playing them on loop.The Congress has faced similar issues ahead of many elections, with BJP frequently trying to play majoritarian politics and cornering the Congress.

The BJP’s latest attempt was in Karnataka where earlier this year, they used a promise of the Congress in their manifesto to look at banning the Bajrang Dal if they come to powerThe BJP and the Sangh Parivar extrapolated this into banning all Bajrangis, that is devotees of Lord Hanuman.But the campaign failed to capture the imagination of the voters and also did not yield them electoral dividends.But Congress fears that the current controversy might not be the same, as the demography of the Hindi-speaking states is quite different from that of Karnataka.Mallikarjun Kharge has called for a meeting of floor leaders of all allies in the INDIA bloc on September 5.This topic is expected to be discussed there.So far the Congress’s reaction has been cautious.Senior leader KC Venugopal said that every party is allowed to have its own opinion but the Congress respects all religious beliefs.With BJP increasing pressure on the Congress to react with a more clear stand, the party now hopes that other allies will do that job for them.Sign up for a Weekly Digest from Dhanya Rajendran* indicates requiredEmail Address * First Name   

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