Rajinikanth, an actor who has a huge fan base, especially in Tamil Nadu, has now found himself caught in the muck of a controversy. Just days before the release of his new film Kaala, the actor, on May 20, made a controversial statement on the Cauvery water conflict while addressing the reporters. He had urged the newly elected government of Karnataka to release its share of the Cauvery river water into Tamil Nadu, as mandated by the Supreme Court verdict. Now, since the actor has turned politician, this statement could no longer have been looked upon as harmless banter of an actor with no idea of the ground reality of the country. Kumaraswamy, the chief minister of Karnataka, denounced the actor-turned-politician’s statement, and said that the condition of the dams in Karnataka does not put the state in a position to share the water.
The statement of Thalaiva triggered right-wing fringe groups from Karnataka to carry out protests against the release of his film Kaala, released on June 7. In the wake of this unrest, the CM of Karnataka backed the deferring of the release of the film, after the High court directed the state government to take security measures to ensure the peaceful screening of the film. What is evident here is that the state government is acting according to the whims and fancies of the right-wing fringe groups.
With exceptions of Ballari – where the Telugu version of the film was screened – and Mangaluru – where the film had a free run – protests marred screenings of the film in the rest of the state. Shows were cancelled in Hubballi, Raichur, Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Shivamogga and several other cities after protests. Though the police had provided security, owners of the movie theatres were apprehensive of the protesters barging into the premises or protesting in the cinema hall, which would have anyway forced them to cancel the shows. By 2.30 pm, multiplex theatres began screening the film. In Bengaluru, Kannada activists led by Vatal Nagaraj, president, Kannada Okkoota and Govind and Praveen Shetty of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, along with several of their followers, were detained by the police following sit-in protests in front of theatres in Mantri Mall, Malleswaram, and later at Orion Mall, Rajajinagar.
Congress has been complicit in the history of cultural and regional chauvinism in Karnataka. During the Siddaramaiah regime, his appeal to the Centre to remove Hindi from the signboards in Karnataka is an evidence of that. Congress has encouraged chauvinist groups in Karnataka in its tenure, and now it is the Hindutva forces that are making use of it.
Ironically enough, Rajinikanth is not even Tamil by birth, he was born to Marathi parents in Karnataka – where he was raised as well. As far as his statements regarding the Cauvery dispute are concerned, they might as well be a crowd-pleasing venture, as his popularity is paramount in Tamil Nadu, and he has now also entered the political arena. The actor has generally been supportive of the right-wing forces; he was seen warming up to Narendra Modi after he became the prime minister. Recently, Rajinikanth made an atrocious claim with respect to the Tuticorin massacre, where he said the police was forced to fire on people because of ‘anti-social elements’. However, it seems that the statements of the actor now have caused him to face the wrath of the right wing forces in Karnataka.
The victory of the coalition of secular forces in Karnataka was seen as a victory for democracy in the state against the BJP. However, it may be inferred from these incidents that the state government continues to operate at the beck and call of the right-wing forces.
This incident, although on a smaller scale, resembles the row over Padmaavat, where the release of the movie was protested by chauvinist outfits such as the Karni Sena. The Karni Sena, however, indulged in acts of hooliganism, ranging from destruction of property to traumatising school children. These ‘outbursts’ over the release of movies are orchestrated in order to assert the dominance of such fringe groups and also used as tools to divert attention from pressing issues. The Hindutva brigade – which uses its offshoots such as the Karni Sena and the fringe groups in Karnataka – have been trying to create an atmosphere of fear for people that do not agree with the cultural agenda of the ruling government.