He Wore the Veshti. He Plogged. What More Does the PM Have to Do to Stop Tamil Nadu from Saying #GoBackModi?

Politics

He Wore the Veshti. He Plogged. What More Does the PM Have to Do to Stop Tamil Nadu from Saying #GoBackModi?

Illustration: Siddhakanksha Mishra

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a page out of Shashi Tharoor’s book over the weekend and taught the country a new word on Twitter. The PM, who was at a retreat in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, tweeted that he had tried his hand at “plogging” — a Swedish word that combines the activities “picking stuff up” and “jogging” to create a portmanteau that’s delighting linguists from across the world. In the photos and videos circulating online, the PM is seen taking a long bare-foot walk down the private stretch of beach, stopping along the way to pick up plastic bottles on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, a large chunk of the state was in the process of following its newest tradition. Over the past few years — along with making superstars out of regular-looking men — the people of Tamil Nadu have started a new custom that’s slowly gaining notoriety (online at least): Greeting the prime minister with black flags and the hashtag #GoBackModi. 

Twitter users will, of course, be familiar with the hashtag, considering it’s the top trend almost every two weeks. Non-Twitter users — you see, polyamory is this thing where you have multiple partners, even though you’re committed to one person, but is not exactly an open relationship… And that’s all you really need to know. 

Anyway, #GoBackModi was first used over a year ago when the decades-old Cauvery dispute was at its peak, and the PM had travelled to the state to attend a defence expo. Protesters had greeted him with black balloons, black flags, and placards with that hashtag. Since then, #GoBackModi has reared his head every time the prime minister even so much as thinks about curd rice.

It was the top trend in India when Modi visited Madurai in January to inaugurate an AIIMS; it returned when the PM visited in Tiruppur in February; then again in March when he was in Kanyakumari to launch a number of projects, and… you get the point

This weekend, however, the BJP seemed to have had enough of this pesky hashtag. As #GoBackModi made its way up the list of trending topics once again, BJP’s Tamil Nadu IT cell chief lashed out at the DMK and the Congress for manufacturing this “insult to the nation”. “Only 22 per cent of the tweets are from India. Several Pakistanis have joined the campaign…” R Nirmal Kumar said.

This time, the BJP, finally fed up of the backlash, started a counter hashtag — #DontGoBackModi — to try and turn things around.

The DMK immediately refuted the charge. “Our party has forbidden us from using the hashtag,” Palanivel Thiagarajan, the DMK IT cell chief replied, presumably without crossing his fingers behind his back. The Congress state IT chief instead went a little further and tweeted his message with the hashtag “Welcome PM Modi”.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has tried his best to win over the people of Tamil Nadu. At a recent UN summit, he quoted the Sangam-era poet Kaniyan Pungundranar, a favourite of the state. When he visited IIT Madras last month, he spoke about how much he loved the state’s cuisine. While in America, he said he spoke Tamil, and called it the oldest language in the world. And this weekend, he upped his game by wearing traditional Tamil attire — a veshti with a white shirt and an angavastram, while sipping coconut water with the Chinese head of state… But still couldn’t be free of this unwelcoming hashtag.

So, at this point, either all the money coming in from Pakistan is too much to resist or the people of Tamil Nadu seem to have a genuine problem with the Prime Minister. 

Some note that the backlash sort of began in 2017, when after Cyclone Ockhi, parts of Tamil Nadu felt the Centre wasn’t helping as much as it could. Since then the tweets have targeted the party over its strong north Indian image, and the Prime Minister’s repeated attempts to reach out have been branded as publicity stunts. The most recent point of contention was over Amit Shah’s suggestion that Hindi be considered the national language — a hill that Tamil Nadu has always chosen to die on.

This time, the BJP, finally fed up of the backlash, started a counter hashtag — #DontGoBackModi — to try and turn things around. We’re happy to report that the new, more welcoming hashtag, tried valiantly to knock #GoBackModi off the pedestal, but ended up landing just a few places short.

So as Tamil Nadu continues to play hard to get, and the PM continues to try, we’ll just have to wait for the end of this buddy comedy to see if they can eventually sort things out.

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