The Indian state of Tamil Nadu will for the first time observe Thaipusam as a holiday on Jan 28 this year, in a move seen to appeal to religious Hindu voters who are being targeted by the hardline BJP which holds federal power.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami declared the holiday earlier this month, facing pressure from the state BJP which has been projecting itself as the “saviour of Murugan”.
Lord Murugan is a central character of the Thaipusam celebrations which take various forms throughout India and among the Hindu diaspora worldwide.
BJP politicians have been ramping up accusations that the Tamil Nadu state government was being disrespectful of Lord Murugan in banning Thaipusam processions this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This came on the back of a controversial YouTube video seen as deragatory towards Lord Murugan.
Since then, BJP has projected itself as a defender of Murugan, and defied Covid-19 restrictions by launching a “VetriVel Yatra”, where its leaders held roadshows and visited temples dedicated to Murugan.
Tamil Nadu BJP chief L Murugan also demanded that the state government declare a holiday for Thaipusam.
On Jan 5, chief minister Edappadi said Tamil Nadu would follow Sri Lanka and Mauritius in declaring Thaipusam a public holiday.
“Hence, I announce that Thaipusam on Jan 28 will be a public holiday in the state and Thaipusam will be included in the public holiday calendar for the coming years,” he said.
The right-wing BJP, alongside other Hindu fundamentalist parties, has dominated India’s federal government for more than two decades, but its influence has been limited in the southern parts of the country where Thaipusam is largely observed.
The party has in recent times set its eyes on capturing Tamil Nadu by raising religious issues close to Hindus.
But one analyst said BJP would not succeed, saying the party’s strategy used in northern states would not work with voters in the south.
“BJP is fighting the Dravidian ideology and it is clear in its action, but it should also keep in mind the love that people of Tamil Nadu have for Lord Murugan is much more than what the party may think.
“It would not do any good for BJP in terms of its support base, but might lead to a resurgence of the Dravidian movement,” political scientist Ramu Manivannan of the University of Madras told Deccan Herald last year.