Debunking Modi in Tamil Nadu

By Shaik Zakeer Hussain,,

Tamil Nadu is the land of regional Dravidian politics, where two dominant parties have held the reins of power for decades now. Though national parties like the Indian National Congress and BJP have had presence here for long, however their influence over the state and its people has been negligible. But is this election going to be any different, especially with the proclaimed Narendra Modi wave sweeping the country. If yes, how would it change the politics here, and if no, why.

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In this Interview with TCN’S Shaik Zakeer Hussain, Mr. Narain Rajagopalan, an Investment Banker by profession, who likes to describe himself as “any other ordinary citizen in this country”, and who is the leading force behind the anti-Modi, social media #NoMo campaign, talks about his reservation against Modi’s policies, Tamil Nadu and more.

Narain Rajagopalan
Narain Rajagopalan

National parties have never had any tangible influence in the regional politics of Tamil Nadu, is this election going to be any different? Do you think the Narendra Modi factor, especially, when his party has been able to craft an impressive six-party poll alliance would be able to make any mark?

I live in a city, where I’ve witnessed Dravidian political ideology for the past 40 years. We understand why Dravidian politics is important in this part of the country, and why none of the national parties are unable to get their feet wet in the state. The underlying factor for the success of Dravidian politics, irrespective of the party, is that socio-economic equality is the prime factor here. We’ve seen some commendable socio-economic policies, which are probably discussed at national level today being put in practice for the past 15-20 years. For example, the supreme court has announced the recognition of transgenders as the third gender, but 10 years ago the previous regime, had issued ration cards to transgenders, so from a socio-economic background, we are the most progressive state in the country.

Now coming to BJP and Narendra Modi, he hasn’t fixed an alliance with six parties, but majorly three parties. Most of them are fringe parties, who are piggybacking on the two major Dravidian parties for the past 25 years. In terms of alliance, and in terms of the proclaimed Modi wave, it means nothing in Tamil Nadu. Maybe part of the urban population, but on a state level, there is no big impact of Mr. Modi. That’s one of the reasons he is desperate to shake hands with some of the biggest cine stars over here. And even if you look at the paid and sponsored opinion polls, they are not showing more than 3 seats to the BJP alliance, out of 40 seats. So what impact are we talking about, it’s almost negligible.

Tell us about your anti-Modi campaign, why is this important to you, and for the people you want your message to reach?

The whole campaign started in September 2013, when Mr. Modi was announced as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. I started off documenting the claims made by Modi versus the reality, and publishing them on blogs, social media, and also contributing articles to Tamil magazines and newspapers. Then there were requests to analyse the data, and claims behind the actual Gujarat Model. Being an Investment Banker, I am decently capable of crunching numbers, so I started analyzing data available on the public domain, and fact checking it.

About the campaign, the majority of it is running under the tag #NoMo, which stands for No Modi. We have a website, which has most of my articles, and the points I have raised in those articles are used by parties such as DMK, in their campaigns against Mr. Modi and his economic policies. Though I don’t get credited for it, nevertheless that’s the public reach of it. Apart from this, we have translated the story published by The Caravan on Swami Aseemanand into Tamil with their permission, and we have printed and distributed 10,000 copies of it across Tamil Nadu.

Now coming to the reason behind my involvement in this campaign, to answer it bluntly, being an Investment Banker, i’ll be the first person to support Mr. Modi, because he is, in a way pro-capitalist, however, if you look at his claims both from a data angle and a social angle, what Mr. Modi has done in Gujarat, and wants to do in India, is dangerous to the pluralistic nature of this country.

Are there ideological reasons in play for political parties here to align themselves with the BJP, or are they only being opportunists?

The question of political parties and ideology are oxymoron in my dictionary. If you look at the top three parties which have aligned with BJP in the state, namely MDMK, PMK, and DMDK. MDMK is a spin off from the leading Dravidian party, DMK. PMK is a castiest party in Tamil Nadu, which has rolled between DMK and AIADMK for a long time. DMDK is a new kid in the block formed by one of the leading cine actors Mr. Vijayakanth. It came into existence claiming that it is a neutral opposite to the two leading parties, but then in the last assembly election, it aligned with the AIADMK. So, these parties in a way are political orphans, being sidelined by the leading parties in the state. There next best choice in Tamil Nadu was to go with Congress, but unfortunately, since you are aware of the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka, these parties have political reasons to not side with Congress, so their only option was to go with the BJP. It’s basically a marriage of convenience.

In his recent visit to the state, Modi had a brief meeting with Film star Rajinikanth, which is seen by many as the actor’s political endorsement. The scene has also been witnessed in many states, where film stars have openly backed Modi, as their preferred prime ministerial candidate, what do you think is the reason behind this celebrity endorsement, when the man in question and his fundamental ideology is antithetical to what the art of movies represent?

It was only during the 1996 state elections where Mr. Rajinikanth, had voiced his displeasure against the then government, however, after that whenever he has raised his voice, it did not find any takers in Tamil Nadu. He was against PMK in one of the elections, but despite his statements, PMK won all six seats. At least in Tamil Nadu, the way I see the connection between political parties and cine actors, except for those fighting in the frame, even if you are a big star, your words will not be taken seriously at the ballot box. Though we are a state ruled by movies, politics and movies never mix. It’s only when you enter politics completely that people will take you seriously, otherwise only statements doesn’t make any difference. And the authoritarian model of controlling the cinema industry, is not prevalent in Tamil Nadu. However, if you look at Andhra Pradesh, the whole industry is controlled by few families. Politics and films are intertwined in huge manner there, so you have cine stars desperately trying to meet Mr. Modi. Tomorrow for example, if Rahul Gandhi comes to Andhra Pradesh, everyone will want to meet him as well. The logic there is very simple, because they have amassed unimaginable wealth, that wealth has to be put in some model, which puts them in its control continuously, and that’s one of the reasons why these actors go meet political leaders, whereas in Tamil Nadu, political leaders meet cine stars.

And also BJP is faceless in Tamil Nadu, they don’t have any big local leaders here. They need someone who is already familiar to the people. So, if Mr. Modi is with Rajinikanth, and if that’s being flashed on every Television channel, they are thinking that Rajinikanth is probably routing for BJP. They are trying to piggyback on his popularity, which unfortunately for them, has not worked for the last 19 years in Tamil Nadu.

Do you think, campaigns like yours would influence people to vote against forces that Modi and his ilk represent?

It’s very difficult to give an answer to that, because we don’t have any metric system to translate this to the ballot box. But what I am seeing is that, including myself, there are a lot of people who are doing this work in their regions, by continuously debunking the myths put forth by Mr. Modi and his campaign managers. The larger impact from this work, is felt outside the social media. For example, many of my articles are taken by DMK in its campaigns. Maybe in this election, people like me, will probably do the back end part of the work, of giving information, making people aware of the situation, but it will take another 5-6 years before social media campaigns can play a determining factor.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Please reject Mr. Modi. It’s not that we are against an individual, but we are against the ideology. We are entering a dangerous phase, which is against the plurality, social equality and justice of this country.