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Tamil orator jailed for remarks against Modi and Shah ‘makes comments for cheap publicity’

Acquaintances of orator Nellai Kannan, also a former Congress leader, say he believes ‘provocation will make people listen to him.

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Chennai: Tamil orator and former Congress leader Nellai Kannan, who was arrested for making controversial remarks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah earlier this week while criticising the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, is known for making provocative comments.

Kannan, who has been remanded to judicial custody until 13 January, was picked up from his house in Perambalur Wednesday night after state BJP leaders staged protests demanding his arrest.

On 28 December, Kannan had said at a Social Democratic Party of India rally in Tirunelveli district: “There is one guy called Amit Shah. (Modi) is the Prime Minister but (Amit Shah) is his brain. If Amit Shah is finished off, then Modi is finished, too.”

Then, looking at the audience comprised mostly of Muslims, he added: “But none of you are finishing it. Let that be to one side. I keep thinking, you all will do something.”

Habit of making distasteful comments

Acquaintances of Kannan told ThePrint that he believes “provocation will make people listen to him”. They also said Kannan has the gift of the gab, and his fiery speeches have made him quite popular on social media. 

“He somehow started believing that provocation will make people listen to him. Kannan does these things for cheap publicity. He also addresses people by their caste and takes pride in that. He made distasteful comments about everyone around,” an acquaintance said on the condition of anonymity.

On the day he made the controversial remarks about Modi and Shah, Kannan even made a casteist jibe at T. Velmurugan, a leader of Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi, who was sitting on the same stage.

In November last year, Kannan’s interview with a Tamil TV channel went viral after he used offensive language for AIADMK ministers while speaking about the Thiruvalluvar controversy.

“He even uses the same language for gods in epics when he narrates them,” a follower of Kannan’s speeches told ThePrint. 

The first acquaintance quoted above said Kannan has the ability to engage people for hours by just speaking.

“When Indira Gandhi was late for a campaign rally in the Sivaganga constituency, it was Kannan who engaged the people for six hours until her arrival. He has the ability to sway people. It is only in these recent times that Kannan has started using strong language in his public speeches,” the acquaintance said.

In 2012, Kannan had filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court over the appointment of rape accused Swami Nithyananda as the 293rd Madurai Aadheenam.

Also read: India’s student protests have broken image of national consensus on Modi’s policies

Lost state elections thrice on Congress ticket

Born in 1945 in a well-to-do Saiva Pillai family in Tirunelveli, Kannan did not study beyond the pre-university course, which is equivalent to Class XII.

He married Muthulaksmi Ammal and had two children — Suresh, a Tamil writer, and Arumugam, who works with a Tamil TV channel. Kannan is said to have married Dheivanayagi after his first wife’s death in 1997. 

Kannan unsuccessfully contested three Tamil Nadu elections on Congress tickets — 1977, 1989 (both from Tirunelveli) and 1996 (from Chepauk against DMK’s M. Karunanidhi). 

He is also known for performing and narrating epics — Kamba Ramayanam, Mahabharatam, Silapathikaram, Muthollayiram and other literary works, both on television and off-screen. 

Kannan has also made frequent appearances on TV shows and was often invited as a judge for debates.

He left the Congress in 2006 and campaigned for the AIADMK candidates at the behest of then-chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. 

After leaving politics, Kannan earned his living mostly by making spiritual and literary speeches on television and in public meetings.

He has also authored a few books of poetry and prose, including Kurukkuthurai Ragasiyangal (2000), Vadivudai Gandhimathiye (2002) and Thikkanaithum Sadaiveesi (2008), among others. But he is known mostly as an orator, not a writer.

“He always reaches out to people more through his speeches than through his writings,” said another close follower of Kannan. 

Also read: Govt won’t budge an inch on implementing CAA, says Home Minister Amit Shah


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