In Tamil Nadu, BJP touches a raw nerve by making passing reference to Kongu Nadu


A passing mention of 'Kongu Nadu' in a BJP party document has opened a can of worms among the political circles in Tamil Nadu. The reference has been construed as being a pointed indication of the party's support for the carving out of a separate regional entity from the territory of Tamil Nadu although doubts have been expressed over popular support for any such move. Here's what you need to know.

How did the topic make headlines?

Following the recent Cabinet reshuffle effected by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the BJP published a list of newly-appointed ministers where party leader L Murugan, who is a former Tamil Nadu state BJP chief, was mentioned as hailing from Kongu Nadu. That raised eyebrows and prompted leaders of rival political parties in Tamil Nadu to allege that BJP was trying to bifurcate the state.

Now, reports say that at least one local unit of the BJP in Tamil Nadu — in Coimbatore north district — has come up with a resolution seeking that the Centre should "reorganise Tamil Nadu and create a separate state of 'Kongu Nadu' to safeguard self-esteem of the people in the region, protect their livelihood and spur growth".

Where is Kongu Nadu?

Kongu Nadu is neither a specific administrative or political unit within Tamil Nadu but a notional area lying in the western part of the state. According to reports, the name 'Kongu' is derived from the Kongu Vellala Gounders, who are an OBC community that is concentrated in these districts.

But a Tamil Nadu government page on Karur district says that "the name Kongu Nadu draws its origin from the term 'Kongu', meaning nectar or honey" and that the history of this region "dates back to the eighth century". It says that the districts and taluks that comprised Kongu Nadu include Palani, Karur, Dharapuram, Thiruchengodu, Erode, Pollachi, Nammakkal, Salem, Dharmapuri, Nilgiris, Avinashi, Satyamangalam, Coimbatore and Udumalpet.

Kongu Nadu was "blessed with huge wealth, a pleasant climate and distinct features" and control over the region passed from Chera, Pandya, Chola and Hoysala hands to Muslim rulers and, finally, the British.

What are the implications of the Kongu Nadu debate?

The region identified with the contours of Kongu Nadu is economically important for Tamil Nadu and politically significant for the BJP and its ally AIADMK. The area, which has important industrial centres like Coimbatore, Salem, Namakkal, Tirupur, etc. also saw the AIDMK-BJP alliance sweep 53 of its 57 state Assembly seats in the recently concluded elections.

But BJP state leaders argue that the area has been neglected by the government in Chennai. The News Minute quoted GK Nagaraj, a BJP farm leader from the Kongu Nadu area as saying that the region was neglected, "despite the fact that it contributed 45 percent to the state income". However, he did add that the region "is very developed".

BJP leaders in the state have spoken in many voices over the issue. The party's state general secretary K Nagarajan has argued that there is a demand on the ground for the creation of a separate Kongu Nadu although others like newly-appointed TN BJP president K Annamalai and the party’s leader in the state Assembly Nainar Nagendran have distanced themselves from the issue.

“There are parties like the Kongu Nadu Desiya Makkal Katchi. Even [PMK leader] S Ramadoss has spoken about the creation of regions such as Kongu Nadu,” Nagarajan was quoted as saying by The Hindu. However, leaders of the ruling DMK have dismissed any talk about the carving out of a separate state. “No one can divide Tamil Nadu or even dream of such a thing. Don’t worry,” DMK leader Kanimozhi told reporters while Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader TTV Dhinakaran urged the Centre and the state governments to not encourage any “mischievous voices” talking about the bifurcation of Tamil Nadu.

An issue of labels?

Interestingly, the Kongu Nadu debate is also being seen in some sections through the prism of a recent dispute over the labels being used for the government at the Centre.

According to reports, BJP leaders took umbrage to references to 'Ondriya Arasu', or Union government by the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu in government documents and circulars, insisting that the term to be used is "Madhiya Arasu", which means the Central government. However, DMK leaders have insisted that Ondriya Arasu is the appropriate term as no Government in India has precedence over other governments, an idea that is conveyed by the term "central government".

Nagarajan has been quoted by the media as saying that "if talking about Ondriya Arasu is their wish, it is also the wish of people to call it ‘Kongu Nadu’".

How is a new state created In India?

Experts say that Article 2 of the Indian Constitution gives Parliament "the exclusive power to admit or establish new states into the Indian Union... and the state legislatures have no power to frame laws" in this regard.

Article 3 of the Constitution says the Parliament can form new states or alter the area, boundaries or names of existing states by legislation. It also allows the Parliament to form a new state by separating the territory from any state or by uniting states or parts of states or by uniting any territory to a part of any state. Where Article 3 is concerned, the expression 'state' includes a Union Territory.

PRS Legislative Research adds that there are two checks mainly on Parliament's power to create new states. First, "a bill calling for formation of new states may be introduced in either House of Parliament only on the recommendation of the President". Also, "such a bill must be referred by the President to the concerned state legislature for expressing its views" although the Parliament "will not be bound by these views".

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In Tamil Nadu, BJP touches a raw nerve by making passing reference to Kongu Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, BJP touches a raw nerve by making passing reference to Kongu Nadu
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