Sasikanth Senthil former IAS officer was working as the District Collector of Raichur and Mangalore districts in Karnataka. He resigned from his post as an act of resistance against the growth of communalism and sectarian forces in the country. Recently he has recently joined the Congress party in Tamil Nadu. In this interview, he shares his insights into contemporary Tamil Nadu politics.
Q: Tamil Nadu has been a model for the rest of the states while dealing with issues of language identity, Hindi or Hindutva imposition, and the state-union relationship. Hindutva proponents are now trying to enter Tamil Nadu. How successful are they? If they are successful, what are the reasons for it? How are people in Tamil Nadu and Congress & their allied parties you represent are resisting it?
A: Periyar pioneered the powerful social movement for rationalism in Tamil Nadu. It was a movement for rationalism that was anti-Brahmanical. Periyar questioned the very idea of idol worship, discrimination in education, and patriarchy amongst others… He was furious that these superstitions fooled people. Hence, Periyar started it as a rationalism movement. In Tamil, it is known as ‘Pakut Arivu’ Movement. It prompted me to have the ability to question and test everything. In this context, the Dravidian movements in Tamil Nadu have developed rational thinking amongst people.
This does not mean that there exists atheism everywhere. There are people who visit temples and also accept Periyar’s thinking. Periyar was an atheist. Yet, they did not reject his thoughts. Periyar always said, ‘I’ll speak what I want to speak. Accept what is acceptable to you, and leave whatever is not’. Periyar shared his thoughts on health, education, social equality, and casteism. However, people developed this rationality while maintaining their beliefs. This is why people do not accept monasteries here. We do not find many monasteries in Tamil Nadu as in Karnataka because people do not accept the idea of building empires. They visit temples for devotion only. Their main focus is on education.
It is a land of plurality and mutual respect. In Tamil Nadu, Muslims speak fluent Tamil, hence, the religious identities are not a polarising issue. But there exists the problem of caste. With the dominance of Brahmins, the dominance of backward classes has also increased.
Given all these factors, my thoughts about BJP’s efforts in Tamil Nadu are such- Modi, Amit Shah, and the RSS want to come into power in Tamil Nadu. They want to take society back to its regressive form, they want to establish Manuvaad. They need to hold power to be able to do this. Tamil Nadu has been the last obstacle for them to achieve this. In the last Lok Sabha election, they didn’t win even a single seat.
Anti-Modi sentiment exists here because the people understand that he is spreading hatred. Tamilians have come this far only after overcoming such hatred. They know that Modi does not care about people and is only fooling around. So, they do not accept him as their leader.
So, BJP is trying to enter Tamil Nadu where there exists such an anti-Modi sentiment. They know very well that attempts to communalize people don’t work here. Rama’s name doesn’t work here. The idea of God in Tamil Nadu is different. In Tamil Nadu, gods existed before Vishnu. Murugan is the tribal god here. Tamilians worship Muruga first.
Q: One of the successful strategies for BJP even when there exist many obstacles to enter into many states has been that the Sangh Parivar and the BJP finds a controversial region to build communal tensions and encash such divisive politics. Is it not possible in even one region of Tamil Nadu?
A: When the BJP enters any state, they undertake a long-term program. Consider the example of West Bengal. They launched the “Mission 2022” campaign in 2014 itself. Their tactics worked easily in Bengal because there existed Hindu-Muslim tensions.
They have gone in with Murugan because BJP’s Rama influence does not work in Tamil Nadu. They have adopted Vel of Murugan as their symbol here despite the trident being the symbol of Hindus. Intellectuals and rationalists in Tamil Nadu have interpreted Vedic texts. There is a poem called ‘Kandasakthi Kavacham’ referring to Murugan. There is a view that there are elements that are understood to be obscene. A Popular YouTube channel in Tamil called ‘Karuppar Kootam’ discussed it. Using this opportunity, the BJP sparked a huge uproar on the idea of intellectuals saying vulgar things about Murugan. Since the government was under their control, people were arrested. In this backdrop, they propagated that Periyar rationalists have attacked Murugan through the media.
It must be noted that the BJP started using the tactic that Hindu religious sentiments have been hurt since it is unable to form an anti-Muslim stance in Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu is not as susceptible as Karnataka on the issue of Hindu-Muslim tensions. BJP has not been able to instigate riots. Hence. they have started off the ‘Vel Yatra’. Their idea was to create riots on the ‘Vel Yatra‘ route. Even that strategy was not successful. However, they ensured media coverage around it.
Q: While their tactics might not have worked on communal terms, they engineer different strategies to draws votes. Your views around this?
A: In states where the BJP has no base, their long-term strategy is to become the second major party in state politics. A similar effort is being made in Tamil Nadu. Two Dravidian parties dominate politics here and BJP wants to destroy one. In the federal system, they can control state governments. They have attempted to take control over AIADMK through attacks & threats and horse-trading. 14 legislators were purchased. They voted in violation of the party whip. But they returned to the party recently. This was a case of defection. However, due to BJP’s intervention, no inquiry was held against those MLAs.
When a government is under control, it is easier to narrate political rhetoric. When Jayalalitha was in power, she did not back the majority-elite or the RSS though she hailed from the Brahmin community. She sent seers of the Kanchi Mutt (established by Shankaracharya) in the Shankararaman murder case. Now the AIADMK has changed completely and the BJP is in control. They need to understand that the same will eventually lead to the emergence of BJP.
Q: How are Tamil Nadu media responding to all these phenomena? Also, Annamalai – a former IPS officer who joined BJP and Rajinikanth has started a new party, are in the news lately. What role can they play?
A: Yes, Annamalai has been in news now. However, this process had begun long back. For example, Maridas was raised here just like Chakravarthy Sulibele was raised in Karnataka. His job is to propagate that political opponents support corruption. BJP then enters into state politics on the issue of corruption. Maridas began to accuse the Dravidian parties of corruption. For this, they have targeted TV channels.
It must be noted that the anchors in Tamil TV media are those who believe in ideals of social equality. They tend towards Periyar’s political ideas and leftist ideology. It is in this spirit that they entered the media houses while hailing from backward classes. There was no space for Pro-BJP news in the media owing to such pro-people and professional anchors. Maridas launched attacks against these anchors. When the credibility of such anchors was questioned, many resigned and walked away and News 18 Channel was completely under BJP’s control. It has now become the Sanghi channel. They also control the Polimer channel now. Finally, Puthiya Thalaimurai channel is now being threatened. The visual media is now in their hands. They are trying to control three to four newspapers as well. They are ensuring that the government does not release advertisements. In this way, they have been able to create narratives and control the media.
Annamalai is sent into this ready platform to try and shape him as a leader amongst the youths. The problem with the BJP in Tamil Nadu is that the election isclose. Now elections are the priority. Amit Shah’s election strategy is to control things at the booth levels. Since not much time is left now, urgency on their part is clearly seen.
Rajinikanth is being brought into politics as part of the same election strategy. Rajinikanth’s new party will be BJP’s B team. There was a rumor that Rajinikanth would join the BJP though he isn’t. It was because of his illness.
The radical Hindutva personalities are not yielding results for BJP in Tamil Nadu. Hence, they are bringing in soft Hindutva personalities like Rajinikanth. BJP has forced him into politics just to cut the votes.
The AIADMK is likely to suffer in this election. Though they have gained a good name for the work they have done through administration during this period, their relationship with the BJP has given them a hit. They might be the second-largest party.
Q: What influence would Shashikala have if she is released from jail?
A: There is debate around Shashikala’s influence on the election. But I don’t think she can have a great influence because the scandals have hit her charisma badly. She could cut votes if she is released. AIMIM and the SDPI might contest the elections and are likely to break the Muslim vote. The DMK and Congress are working together to counter these strategies. Works have intensified since Amit Shah’s visit to Tamil Nadu. Prashant Kishore, known for his electoral strategies, is working for the DMK.
Q: What is the relationship between Congress and DMK? Are negotiations completed? What will be the influence of the Left Parties and Kamal Hassan?
A: The BJP is looking to take the place of Congress and AIDMK. Congress is the most likely opponent to give them a tough fight.
The Left parties will work as resistance to the regressive forces. Their active participation in the election will aid in diluting BJP’s power. So they have an important role here.
There exists an image that Kamal Haasan’s Party is a Corporate Party. It feels like it has failed to reach the general public. If Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth join in, the DMK will benefit. However, the biggest challenge is to ensure that the votes of minorities do not shift to AIMIM and SDPI as it will play a decisive role in the election.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and DMK leader Stalin share a good rapport. That would be visible in election strategies. Seat sharing is undecided as of now and there will be a meeting about it.
Q: Last word ..
A: In the south, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the two states that have prevented the BJP from coming to power. Tamil Nadu has always provided intense resistance. It will stay so even in the future. If we forget the idea of inclusive growth and advancement, extremists like the BJP will become take over. We must not make space for that.
Interview: Guruprasad D. N. Translated from Kannada to English by Shashank SR.