Bengaluru: Earlier this month, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national secretary H. Raja created quite a stir in Tamil Nadu when he alleged a political motive to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK’s) opposition to a proposal to make Hindi mandatory in schools.
To prove his claim, he released a list of 45 CBSE schools run by leaders of the DMK, besides those of the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).
One of the schools is owned by DMK president M.K. Stalin’s daughter Senthamarai Sabareesan, and Raja claimed the party was opposed to the proposal because Hindi lessons in government schools could hurt the enrolment at the institutes these leaders owned.
“…Hindi for one’s livelihood (and) opposition to Hindi only for politics? You can’t hoodwink Tamil people,” Raja said in a tweet directed at Stalin.
A few weeks before, Raja had sought to stir up communal passions during the Lok Sabha election campaign by asking Hindus to keep a distance from actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan, saying he is “not a Hindu” — this, because the superstar had called Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse “India’s first terrorist”.
But courting controversy is nothing new for Raja, a former chartered accountant from Sivaganga who lost this Lok Sabha election to former union finance minister P. Chidambaram’s son Karthi.
Raja started his political career as a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, with which he has been associated for more than four decades.
Raja’s ability to converse in Hindi has helped him work his way into the hearts of his seniors in Delhi.
He made his electoral debut in 1999 with the Lok Sabha elections, winning Sivaganga, but lost subsequent bids in the 2001, 2006 and 2016 assembly elections. In 2011, he had won the Karaikudi assembly seat after the DMK backed his candidature.
This year, this firebrand leader was given the seat yet again after the BJP partnered with the AIADMK, but lost the election to Karthi by a margin of 3.32 lakh votes.
Cooling a warming Earth
Over his two decades in active politics, Raja has made a name for himself with his apparent penchant for controversy.
Last year, Raja went viral on social media with an image that showed him pouring water over a globe amid chanting — purportedly to cool the temperatures of a warming Earth.
What is H Raja, BJP National Secy doing ? 🤔
Hope he is not trying to stop Global Warming by pouring water on the Globe ! pic.twitter.com/wn71qWHJeB
— Arvind Gunasekar (@arvindgunasekar) November 15, 2018
In March 2018, as Stalin, along with Vaiko of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), protested against the singing of a Sanskrit song at an IIT-Madras event instead of the Tamil anthem ‘Tamizh Thai Vazhthu‘, the invocation of the Tamil mother, Raja sought to challenge them on Twitter.
He tweeted a picture of a couple kissing, with a veiled suggestion that it was from the IIT-Madras campus, and said, “For the attention of Vaiko and Stalin: When you developed Tamil culture at IIT-Madras.”
The photo, however, was a viral image from the 2014 ‘Kiss of Love’ stir in Delhi against moral policing.
The picture caught the eye of the woman in the picture, who tweeted back, saying, “Always wanted to create an impact in Tamil politics. Thanks for bringing my hard work to light @HRajaBJP!”
Soon afterwards, his timeline was filled with pictures of lip-locked couples, with Raja’s incensed supporters almost starting a Twitter war.
At the peak of the JNU protests in 2016, Raja reportedly told CPI leader D. Raja that he should get his daughter shot at by communists for participating in “anti-national” demonstrations at JNU. “To prove my love for this country, I would have done the same,” he was quoted as telling reporters in Coimbatore.
In another controversial incident from last year, he was caught on camera “abusing” the Tamil Nadu Police and the Madras High Court for preventing him from leading a Ganesh Chaturthi procession in a communally-sensitive area at Pudukottai where the court had banned processions.
In the viral video, Raja can be heard accusing police of being “anti-Hindu and highly corrupt”.
Although Raja initially claimed that the video was fake, he apologised when summoned by the Madras High Court.
In March 2018, after a mob, allegedly consisting of BJP supporters, pulled down a statue of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin in Tripura, Raja wrote on his Facebook page, “Who is Lenin and what connection does Lenin have with India? What connection does India have with communists? Lenin’s statue has been removed in Tripura. Today it is Lenin’s statue, tomorrow it will be the statue of caste fanatic EVR Ramasamy (Periyar)” he posted.
Social performer Periyar is a deeply-revered figure in the state, and the comments led BJP seniors to reprimand Raja.
In 2014, he “nearly” issued a death threat to former NDA ally Vaiko for criticising PM Narendra Modi.
Despite his antics, however, analysts dismiss Raja’s influence as a mass leader.
“His problem is his outspokenness and that puts him in trouble,” said Chennai-based political analyst Sumanth C. Raman.
“His spoken words incite fierce emotions. As a politician, he is a fearless leader, a loyal RSS leader. But the BJP may not necessarily bank on him because winnability is not his strong point. He has won just one election and contested many,” Raman added.
Another analyst based in the Tamil Nadu capital, Aazhi Senthilnathan, said Raja was a politician who will never understand the state’s social fabric and its politics.
As an example, he cited Raja’s campaign to get control of temples away from the government.
In Tamil Nadu 1000s of Hindu temples are abandoned now. But when the state took over them they were all functioning temples. Is it not a great injustice to the Hindus. The secular government has no business to control religious places https://t.co/f68TCDvVWB
— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) October 12, 2018
“Temples do not belong to one community in Tamil Nadu, like in north India,” he said. “In Tamil Nadu, temples are administered by the government and no one community (Hindus) can try and take control over them. Raja is trying to get that done.
“Raja has made a lot of statements against Periyar… What he does not understand is that a person who is a Hindu may not be against Periyar or Dravidian politics. Raja belongs to a group whose mindset is to attack their enemy cruelly or violently to ensure a win,” Senthilnathan added.
However, Tamil Nadu BJP spokesperson Narayanan Thirupathy said Raja will always remain relevant as a BJP leader, adding that his aggression on certain issues should not be misinterpreted.
“He has been an RSS karyakarta from a young age, and he ensures that he replies to politicians of the likes of Stalin and others in their own tongue,” Thirupathy added. “That is why they think he is controversial.”
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