Key Opposition leaders share stage at CM Stalin’s book launch in Tamil Nadu

The release of the autobiography of Tamil Nadu chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M K Stalin, by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Chennai turned into another opportunity to attempt to forge a united front against the Bharatiya Janata Party, with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan (of the CPI), RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah in attendance — although West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekar Rao gave the event a miss.

Stalin said in his speech that the Constitution needs to be amended to give states more rights. He referred to Gandhi’s recent speech in the Parliament where the latter attacked the BJP and said it could never rule a state like Tamil Nadu and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was behaving like a king. “He (Gandhi) has fully understood the Dravidian ideology.”

He appealed for all leaders to join hands to protect state rights. “Before concluding my speech, I wish to make an appeal, not just to the leaders on this stage, but to everyone who believes in secular values.” “Our Indian Union is facing a big threat from divisive forces. We all need to come together to defeat them and protect the founding principles of India,” he added.

In the three-hour event, speaker after speaker launched an attack on the BJP. Gandhi criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi of not listening to the voices in Tamil Nadu on issues such as NEET and GST. “We always speak of unity in diversity and historically India has taken advantage of the diversity,” Gandhi said. “Our vision is unity from diversity and their (BJP) vision unity through conformity. This is the central fight in our country today.”

“But the BJP need not be under any illusion. They are fighting history, tradition. They will be defeated.”

Yet, the absence of two chief ministers who have become increasingly critical of the BJP, highlighted the challenges in creating a front to take on the current national political hegemon.

Both Banerjee and Rao have said that the front should not include the Congress, which is different from the position of other parties, including the DMK.

“But both of them sent messages to Stalin today,” said a senior DMK leader who asked not to be named. He admitted that they probably didn’t turn up given that Gandhi was releasing the book. “It’s a book launch so we didn’t expect more than three, four leaders. But we sent an invite to everyone including Edappadi Palaniswami because he is the leader of the opposition.”

The run-up to the launch –Stalin wrote to 37 national leaders, asking them to join his newly launched All India Federation for Social Justice and also CMs of various states to favour Tamil Nadu’s fight to abolish NEET–indicated that this would be another gathering of leaders from opposition ruled states. DMK MP Kanimozhi in her welcome address said that this was not just a book launch but a trailer for those standing up to sectarian politics and fascism.

The first part of Stalin’s autobiography “Ungalil Oruvan” ( One Among You), covers the first 23 years of his life– from his birth in 1953 until his arrest in 1976 during the Emergency under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act). Stalin said that he cannot write and speak like his father late M Karunanidhi who was known for both. “But I wanted to attempt it and this book is one such attempt.” Stalin also said that when he was 23 years old and got married to his wife Durga who was in the audience, their wedding, which happened exactly two months after Emergency was imposed, and was attended by several leaders, was like an Indian conclave (of opposition parties). “This book launch too is like an Indian conference,” he said.

Abdullah recalled that during the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, Tamil Nadu voiced its support for Jammu and Kashmir while many remained silent and even complicit. Yet, he said he did not come as a victim of what happened to him, his father and his region but to bring a warning that what started in Jammu and Kashmir would not end there. “The experiment of J & K then gets repeated in other parts of the country..If tomorrow they decide that Tamil Nadu will be divided into three. What will you do?” asked Abdullah. “It’s important that like minded people like those on the dias come together. The fight isn’t against one party but against an entire machinery.” He also raised the hijab controversy in Karnataka and said, “What I choose to wear is between me and God.”

Yadav pitched for a caste-based census in the country and re-visit the cap on reservation so as to allow other states to follow Tamil Nadu which has 69% reservation. “We are witnessing gruesome attacks on the constitutional values of freedom, equality and on social justice,” said Yadav. “We must understand that while recording these attacks, history shall name the perpetrators but it shall also not spare us if we do not fight and resist collectively. Let us go back from here with this solemn resolve and pledge.”

Vijayan appreciated Stalin for rallying like minded allies against oppressors without naming the BJP-led Centre.

Gandhi , whose father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur in 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber said his “blood is mixed in the soil” of the state.

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