Explained: What’s the controversy around Rajinikanth’s remarks on Periyar
The actor was speaking at the 50th-anniversary celebration of Thuglaq, a Tamil political weekly, when he brought Periyar’s stringent criticism against Hindu religion back from death.
Rajinikanth’s latest movie ‘Darbar’ washed out in Hindi but that doesn’t mean he can’t trend on Twitter or national politics. The latest controversy is about his remarks on Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy at the 50th-anniversary celebration of Thuglaq, a Tamil political weekly.
Rajinikanth, who has floated his own political party, was referring to how Thuglak wrote against the ideological father of Tamil Nadu political parties such as DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) when he held a rally in 1971 in Salem where Hindu religious deities were allegedly displayed in a lewd manner.
Here is how the actor described the incident while he was speaking at the Thuglak event:
“In 1971, at Salem, Periyar took out a rally in which the undressed images of Lord Sriramachandramoorthy and Sita - with a garland of sandal - was featured. No other publication published anything about the rally, but Cho printed it on the front page of the magazine and condemned it vehemently. The ruling DMK government at that time got a bad name because of the coverage. DMK seized these Thuglaq copies as they didn’t want anyone to read about the rally.”
Many Dravidian groups have staged protests and filed complaints against Rajinikanth to the police saying that he has “insulted Periyar.” But the actor refused to apologise saying "I did not say anything out of imagination or something that was not there. Lakshmanan (then Jan Sangh and now BJP leader) who took part in a dharna (in 1971) has corroborated it,"
So, what actually happened in the 1971 Salem rally?
(Audio clip of Periyar talking about the 1971 Salem rally)
According to the national English daily, The Hindu, the rally did “include obscene pictures of the birth of Lord Muruga, penance of sages and Mohini Avatara, a 10-foot long image of Lord Rama” which “dozens of people kept beating with chappals”. The report also confirms Periyar’s presence at the procession.
The rally was part of the ‘Superstition Eradication Conference’ by Dravida Kazhagam. A resolution urging “the government to allow free criticism of religious practices of people of various faiths including Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism” was passed at the rally.
But why did Periyar do that?
Periyar, an atheist and a rationalist, had joined politics during the time of freedom struggle. He joined the Congress party in 1919 but exited it once he realised it’s highly dominated by Brahmins.
He was instrumental in promoting self-respect movement and the entry of lower castes into temples. He propagated rationalism and opposed the Hindu religion as he believed that its religious practices were based on the oppression of all other castes except Brahmins.
He launched his own Dravida Kazhagam party, the base from which the two most important political parties in Tamil Nadu, DMK and AIADMK, were launched on the plank of Tamil pride.
Periyar (a name which means ‘respected’ one in Tamil) carried out a series of controversial protests which involved breaking of the burning of idols of Hindu gods or garlanding them with shoes.
Cho and his Thuglak
Srinivasa Iyer Ramaswamy or Cho Ramaswamy as he is referred to in the media, was an actor, satirist, and politician.
His 1968 satirical play "Muhammad bin Tughlaq", was so successful that, in 1970, Cho launched a Tamil weekly news magazine by the same name. He remained Thuglak’s editor till his death in 2016.
The current editor of Thuglak, S Gurumurthy, an RSS idealogue was also present when Rajinikanth made the controversial statement.
Controversies aren’t new to Rajinikanth. Ever since he announced his entry to politics, the Tamil superstar, adoringly called ‘Thalaivar’ by his fans, has hinted at his ‘spiritual politics’ that’s different from the atheist, minority-pleasing politics of DMK and AIADMK. His comment that “violent protests are not the solution to any problem” in the context of anti-CAA protests in December was carefully worded and cautionary.
He also came under fire for his statement that “anti-social elements" were the reason for violence in the protests against Vedanta’s Sterlite at Thoothukudi where 13 people were killed in police firing. This statement was made just before the release of his movie "Kaala" (2018) where he was literally the hero who leads agitation against people in power.
While his colleague and politician Kamal Haasan have been vocal about national issues and places strong criticism against the ruling BJP government, to date Rajinikanth has never opposed the Narendra Modi government in any issue. In November, last year, he clarified that the BJP has not invited him to join the party and said, “efforts are being made to paint me with saffron”.
After the Thuglaq controversy, several Tamilnadu BJP leaders took to Twitter to voice their support for Rajinikanth.
திரு. ரஜினிகாந்த் அவர்கள் பத்திரிகை செய்தியின் நகலைக் காட்டியதற்கு திக வினர் ஒரிஜினலை காட்டச் சொல்கின்றனர். முதலில் நீங்கள் முரசொலி இட மூலப்பத்திரத்தை காட்டுங்கள். @PTTVOnlineNews @polimernews @ThanthiTV @news7tamil @News18TamilNadu— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) January 21, 2020