Since the murder of his close friend Gauri Lankesh, Prakash Raj has been a vocal critic of Hindutva politics. Amidst his frequent speeches and social media censure of the Hindu right-wing, the actor’s column in Udayavani, ‘Irudellavu Bittu’ (Besides all other things), has now been discontinued by the newspaper.
On Thursday morning, the actor took to Twitter to express his displeasure at the newspaper’s decision to stop the column. Published on Saturdays, the column was a platform for the actor to discuss politics and development, among other current issues. He alleged in his tweet that ‘invisible hands’ had played a part in the decision to discontinue his column in the widely-circulated newspaper.
There is little ambiguity over the implication of his tweet: he thinks his political stance and open attack on Hindutva politics cost him his weekly column in a popular newspaper.
Is this political vendetta? Udayavani editor Shiva Subramanya, who took over the reins of the newspaper only a few days ago, emphatically denies the allegations.
Stating that there was no political motive behind the decision to drop Raj as one of their weekly columnists, the editor says that it was a routine decision.
“He has written a lot for us so we need to change the team. We have to give a chance to new writers. It is a routine exercise in every newspaper. What is special in it? There is no hidden agenda, you have to ask him what it is,” he says, speaking to TNM.
“Every newspaper across the globe, whether it is in Kannada or English or any other language, does it. It is a routine exercise, a writer writes for one year or six months, and then another person writes. We have plenty of writers in Karnataka. We have to give them a chance,” Shiva adds.
He, however, confirmed that the column was discontinued last weekend with immediate effect. The decision comes just days after Shiva took over as the editor of the newspaper in Bengaluru, on December 14.
When asked why the decision was taken suddenly, he asked, “Who told you it was a sudden decision?”
In his last column published on December 24, 2017, Prakash Raj had mused about friendship, love and the purpose of existence. In previous columns, he had discussed religion, development and called for greater support to farmers. In a column published on November 26, Raj had urged people to let others decide their religious beliefs on their own.
On other platforms like Twitter, he has been outspoken in his criticism of BJP leaders. In October, he said that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was a better actor than him. More recently, he sent a legal notice to BJP MP Pratap Simha for making derogatory and personal remarks against him. He also criticised MP Anantkumar Hegde for linking nationalism and Hindutva in a recent speech.
To what extent could have his recent outspokenness driven the decision to drop his column?
A senior Kannada journalist who has followed Udayavani closely for several years says that it would not be surprising if the decision was taken by the new editorial leadership because of his politics.
Pointing out that the actor had been writing only for a few months, while several others have been writing for years, the journalist says that Udayavani could have been pushed to take this decision because of its readership.
“Not only is Udayavani popular, it also has a very close relationship with its readers, especially in Coastal Karnataka. Readers give continuous feedback to the editorial, and the newspaper takes it seriously. It is very possible, given the present political scenario, that a lot of readers wrote to them expressing their displeasure with his politics,” says the journalist.
Udayavani is a legacy newspaper owned by the powerful and influential Manipal group. Based in Manipal, the paper is widely read in Udupi, Mangaluru and other parts of Coastal Karnataka. Dr. Ranjan Pai, who belongs to the Pai family which owns and runs the Manipal group, has also invested in Republic TV through his fund Aarin Capital Partners.