The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has appointed Karnataka’s former Minister for Tourism, Kannada and Culture C T Ravi as the prabhari (in-charge) for Tamil Nadu in a major revamp of responsibilities for its office bearers.
It announced its new team of states in-charge last Friday.
Ravi has also been given charge of Goa and Maharashtra. But the appointment of this ‘unapologetically Hindu’ and ‘fire brand’ leader as the Tamil Nadu in-charge, replacing Muralidhar Rao, signals interesting times to come for the state that goes to elections in few months.
The appointment came a week after Ravi was detained by the Tamil Nadu police in Tiruttani along with other BJP leaders for participating in the Vetri Vel Yatra that the party has been conducting in the state in the run up to the elections.
The month long yatra has been launched by the BJP even as its ally and the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government refused to permit such events, citing the pandemic.
On being detained, Ravi tweeted asking “Is it a crime to worship Lord Murugan?....” and went on to add that the BJP “cannot be stopped in our endeavour to serve Tamil Makkal. We will continue our efforts”.
Known for never mincing his words, this ‘hardcore’ sanghi who wears Hindutva on his sleeves, has been chosen to drive the party’s affairs in Tamil Nadu.
He replaces former national general secretary Muralidhar Rao who now been given charge of Madhya Pradesh. Rao’s replacement had been predicted by news reports earlier, with certain state leaders calling it a as a "welcome move" given that the party hadn’t made great progress under his leadership.
Speaking to Swarajya, the new in-charge rubbishes such reports saying “election results do not necessarily reflect the effectiveness of the work done by the cadre. It is like harvesting crops. Some lands yield immediately, some crops are washed away, some lands take time. That doesn’t mean the effort has gone in vain. We will take things ahead from where they are.”
Our party organisation is not just for winning elections, he adds.
Ravi is no stranger to Tamil Nadu. He, along with Union Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal, had been handed the responsibilities of chalking out a seat-sharing formula with allies in Tamil Nadu last time around too. But with this new role, he says his first priority is strengthening the organisation in the state.
“For us, power is a tool not our goal or destination. Our larger goal is empowering the nation. And in this direction, we are working towards empowering every society, every individual,” says Ravi, whose journey as a grass roots leader and his capacities in spearheading people’s movements attracted national attention with his Datta Peetha Horata movement way before he made it to the legislative assembly.
Coming from a non-political family, Ravi started his political journey from Aldoor Hoballi in 1987, going on to be the Yuva Morcha head of the party unit of Chikamagaluru district in 1992, when he also actively participated in the Ayodhya movement.
Identifying himself with ‘people’s movements’ across the country, be it in the Delhi Satyagraha or in Maharashtra, where he went to prison with other party leaders, or involving himself with Murli Manohar Joshi’s Bharata Ekta Yatra to Srinagar, he has always been a ‘leader of foot’ with ‘yatras’ being his forte, and one who takes on the opposition in a language that ‘hits hard’.
The Datta Peetha issue that had been seething for years, gained momentum after it turned into a movement with Ravi at the helm touring over 29 assembly constituencies across seven districts.
In the same year, he was also seen undertaking a 250 km yatra on foot for 10 days from his constituency Chikamagaluru to capital Bengaluru. This was after his record maiden victory in the legislative assembly election where he defeated the Congress candidate by 25,000 votes. He had lost the seat by less than 1,000 votes in the previous election.
He now takes charge of a state where the regional identity has been posited against the religious and national ones by the local political parties, especially the M K Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
“Our cadre in the state is putting in all the effort and working very hard. The Vetri Vel Yatra that has been launched recently is a clear message that this is no time to tolerate anything silently. No time to bear insults. This is a yatra against all the insults and lies, and to tell people the truth, and we will do it,” says the four-time MLA.
The truths include all that the central leadership has done for the state of Tamil Nadu, which need to all be told to the people, says Ravi charting out the design.
“The Centre has given development schemes worth more than Rs 510,000 crore to Tamil Nadu. We need to tell people about them. Be it the highest smart cities, highest number of Amrut cities, the Kisan Saman Yojana benefits, the Jan Dhan Yojana benefits, or the share of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat schemes, Tamil Nadu has been a huge beneficiary. Keeping all these in front of the public, we will win the hearts of our Tamil people,” he says, adding that “this is all we need to do to take the work done by our government at the Centre for the people of Tamil Nadu to them — to create a positive opinion towards the central government and towards our Prime Minister”.
The party’s Vetri Vel Yatra that saw many BJP leaders detained has been hailed as one that will be the "turning point in Tamil Nadu politics" by the party state president L Murugan and touted by the opposition and critics as an attempt to incite violence.
And on that note of the role of party’s ideology of ‘Hindutva’ in the Tamil state, Ravi reiterates quite firmly that “Tamilism is Hindutva — the two are no different. It is not possible for the two to be different”.
“What is the legacy of Tamil Nadu? It is that of Raja Raja Chola. When one says Tamil Nadu, one remembers the Brihadeeswara Temple — isn't that Hindutva? One remembers Kamba Ramayana — that too shows Hindutva and so does the Thirukkural. The greatest of temples stand there on that land — as legacies of different rulers may be — but all of them represent Hinduism itself right? How then can the Tamil and Hindu identity be two different ones? Tamilism is Hindutva and vice versa,” reiterates Ravi.
“So, we are clear in terms of what we want to achieve. The regional identities are to be given priority but it is not in conflict with the welfare of the nation. When we work in Tamil Nadu, the priority is for the demands of the state, but in cooperation and not in conflict with that of the country.”
And as for the divisive forces in the state which have tried to ensure the ‘Hindu’ identity in opposition to the Tamilian/Dravidian one, he says “There is an end to every lie that is floated. It can’t be upheld or camouflaged as true forever. And the time for all lies to end has come. All these years those who ruled have only indulged in corruption, dynastic politics and nepotism. They didn’t make an effort to pay attention to the potential and possibilities of Tamil Nadu. They invested all their energies on ensuring Tamil people stay poor, dividing them on caste instead of working for their welfare, or for the promotion of their culture. And this is what we will ensure we do — to save the real Tamilism,” emphasises Ravi.
The yatra, which is now underway, started from 6 November encompassing six key shrines of Lord Muruga and will conclude on 6 December on the occasion of Skanda Shashti. While the yatra itself has encountered various difficulties, it has steered discussions across the state.
“It was a time and place where only the opposition strived — often without even offering any explanation to the people. But now, when we are meeting people with these issues, it is stirring thoughts and leading to discussions. Let them take place. For no longer will we let people get away with insults, nor will we tolerate them.”
“Lord Muruga is the soul of Tamil Nadu, like Sharada Devi is for Kashmir and Ayyappa for Kerala, Murugan is the atma of Tamil Nadu and any insult to our deities shall not be tolerated,” he reaffirms.
And as for those accusing the party of hijacking the deity for their political gains like they did with Lord Ram in Ayodhya, the new state in-charge was clear that the accusations were not going to deter the party.
“They probably haven’t heard of ‘ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti‘ — the ultimate manifests in different forms. They can say what they like but to us Lord Murugan is no different from Lord Ram,” he says, adding that it wasn’t possible to see the two differently.
His mission and that of the party is to create and groom public leadership, he explains. “And this people leadership, led by a blend of our party’s nationalistic fervour and Tamilism, will be the answer to all of the state’s questions,” he says.
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