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Haasan’s Godse comment spurs war of words in Tamil Nadu

Political parties arrayed in a stand-off, with the state unit of the Indian National Congress supporting Haasan and the AIADMK and the BJP launching fiery retaliations.

ET Bureau|
May 15, 2019, 11.49 AM IST
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After Haasan’s speech on Sunday, he has not continued campaigning.
CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu’s political scene saw a quick escalation of hostilities over actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan’s remarks identifying Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as the “first Hindu extremist of independent India.”

Political parties arrayed in a stand-off, with the state unit of the Indian National Congress supporting Haasan and the AIADMK and the BJP launching fiery retaliations. The DMK, however, stayed out of this.

Police in Aravakurichi in Karur district filed an FIR against the actor-politician under sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code,which deal with ‘outraging religious feelings’ and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’, respectively. A Karur police release also warned of stringent action against those inciting violence in the name of religion, caste, language and race. In Delhi, two separate cases were filed against Haasan.

The surge over Haasan’s remarks comes after predictable poll proceedings dominated by anti-Modi campaigns, farmer distress, the common medical test NEET, the factionalism of the AIADMK and other perennial issues. Electors will vote four lawmakers to the state Assembly on Sunday, the last leg of the 22-seat by-elections conducted along with the Lok Sabha elections in the state.

Speaking in Aravakurichi constituency last Sunday, Haasan recounted the criticism he had received a few months back after discoursing on Hindu extremism. The 64-year-old reasoned that his original intentions were to convey that terrorism was “present on both sides, and that wherever it resides – committed in the name of whichever religion – it was wrong.” He proceeded to say: “Today I tell you, not because this is a Muslim-dominated area: Independent India’s first extremist was a Hindu. His name was Nathuram Godse. It all started there.”

State dairy minister Rajenthra Bhalaji, a strong critic of Kamal Haasan, said his tongue should be cut off, a remark that drew condemnations, particularly from the Indian National Congress and state ally VCK.

Makkal Needhi Maiam general secretary A Arunachalam had called for the resignation of Bhalaji for his violent comments towards Haasan.

In a statement, VCK said it stood by Haasan’s assertions about Godse but found it troublesome that he chose to speak of it during elections.

“We feel he need not have pointed to the religion of Godse,” VCK said in a statement.

Makkal Needhi Maiam insiders believe it was a deliberate attempt by the BJP and the AIADMK to make it an anti-Hindu speech. A leader in MNM, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The speech that was calling for religious tolerance and condemning extremism in whichever religion has been twisted with malafide intent by the ruling party at the Centre and its friends here to look like it was about Hinduism.”

After Haasan’s speech on Sunday, he had not continued campaigning. Party sources say permissions from the police department have been “generally hard to come by” for the party and that Haasan will restart campaigns from Wednesday.
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