Entering a student’s room on the second floor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University left the usually-vocal Kanimozhi speechless. He was from Kashmir, but without any political views, with absolutely no involvement in the politics of the highly political campus. And yet the room was vandalised. There was mud on the floor and the bed, books strewn apart, powder and paint thrown everywhere. Standing outside, the student said he was thrown off the second floor. Kanimozhi, poet and politician, stood there disturbed, not knowing what to tell him.
“Could I tell him his country loves him?” Kanimozhi asks, sitting at a session at the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode.
She was talking about her recent visit to the JNU, soon after the horrific attack on the students allegedly by the right wing forces within the campus, that shocked the rest of the country.
An elected member of the Lok Sabha and belonging to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, Kanimozhi had plenty to say about the way things were run in the country. Perhaps it is time for a new Quit India movement, she agreed when journalist Anjana Shankar asked.
“It is unfortunate that the Tamil Nadu government is not saying much about the Citizenship Amendment Act or the National Register of Citizens. Hats off to Kerala, for rising above the differences of religion and caste and political parties and coming out to the streets to protest the CAA and the NRC,” Kanimozhi says.
In Tamil Nadu, it’s not been the same. “60 policemen were sent to arrest six people who wanted to protest through kolams against the NRC and the CAA. Four days ago, four people who met at Valluvar Kottam (to protest against the CAA) were detained. After a rally taken out by the DMK alliance, there were cases against 8,000 people.”
What’s stopped the saffron surge in TN and Kerala
It is the cultural and language identities of Dravida politics that’s stopped the saffron surge in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, she says. “And leaders like Ambedkar, Periyar, Anna, Narayana Guru. The Dravida movement is about self respect, to retain our identity. But they (BJP-RSS) are talking about their version of Hinduism, there is no respect for the local ways of worship. Amit Shah (when he was BJP national president) wished Kerala a Happy Vamana Jayanthi at the time of Onam. It shows a complete lack of understanding of how the people view a festival.”
There are differences between the states. There are differences and similarities between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. “But we have always celebrated our diversities. The BJP is trying to take that away. They are trying to take away all colours and paint everything orange.”
Religion should never be a political platform, Kanimozhi asserts. “Politics has to be fluid - grow and mould and change with the changing needs of the people. Religion will just pull you back. The real issues are not discussed anymore -- issues of unemployment, women’s safety, environment, agriculture, equality… but we are out on the streets to defend our Constitution. This is what they have done to the country.”
On dynasty politics
Anjana asked her about dynasty politics and while agreeing that it does help in opening doors, it does not help you to last if people don’t accept your leadership. Just like in cinema, where children of stars cannot make it beyond two or three films if they are not good themselves. She doesn’t feel that the 2019 election mandate was a voice against dynasty politics.
Kanimozhi also spoke about the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. She said that while there were many differences, Jayalalithaa had a lot of respect for the others. “I don’t think she would have supported the CAA if she were alive and leading her party, the AIADMK.”
But Kanimozhi says she would not ‘aspire to fill that void (left by Jayalalithaa)’. “Her kind of politics is not what I aspire to follow. I’d rather look at my mentor and my dad, Karunanidhi.”