POLITICS
30/04/2018 12:50 PM IST | Updated 30/04/2018 8:49 PM IST

Interview: Actor Prakash Raj Talks About Pushback Against The BJP And How Gauri Lankesh's Murder Changed Him

'The BJP ideology is being rejected. The very fact that they want an opposition-mukt Bharat shows their arrogance.'

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

As he rolled up the window and settled back into his seat, Prakash Raj said, "Be warned, they might throw gobar (cow dung) at the car."

By "they," the popular actor and director, with five National Awards to his credit, meant the Bajrang Dal activists who are known to run riot in the port city of Mangalore, a stronghold of the Sangh Parivar.

With less than two weeks before polling day, Raj is making pitstops all over the state with just one message: don't vote BJP.

He has shared a stage with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who has traveled from Gujarat to rail against the BJP, and Richa Singh, a student leader from Allahabad University.

In an interview with HuffPost India, Raj talked about how the murder of Gauri Lankesh changed him and why he is doing his bit in the "semi final" to the 2019 general election.

Excerpts:

Why did you decide to speak out?

I was always a guy who questioned, but Gauri's death changed my perception. When you see people rejoicing at a death, you ask the question why. I felt responsible that we had left her to speak alone.

I can't get Gauri back. It is a wound that is deeper than flesh. We don't want another Gauri Lankesh (murder) happening.

I found a purpose after, I feel responsible for my state and for my society because I'm born out of it and I've gained from it. What's the point of my existence if I can't give back to society. Someone has to start somewhere. That's how voices are born.

You shared a stage with a lawmaker from Gujarat, a student leader from Allahabad. Why is pushing back the BJP proving so tough?

I think one reason for their onslaught was that people had become islands. I think we've all realised that we'll have to bury the differences and come together. What is happening is not right, this dictatorial rule which is rolling over everything.

Nature has its way, it fights back in its own way. When more voices speak out loud, it strengthens the voice of the people. I think the erosion of BJP has already started.

"There is no place for being comfortable, right now. We need to speak clearly. First, we have to fight communal politics, which is more dangerous than corruption."

Still, the BJP, largely Modi, remains popular.

That's not the case, anymore. The BJP ideology is being rejected. The very fact that they want an opposition-mukt Bharat shows their arrogance. How does a democracy work without an Opposition? A minister is saying something (Islam) has to be wiped out. They have elected governments that do not listen to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court wants a movie to be released, they ban it on their own. Why are fringe elements coming up? Why do they feel comfortable that they can get away with what they want to do?

We've never had an election like this before. Even right now, we are wondering whether someone might throw cow dung at us. A citizen who is speaking his or her mind needs police protection. It should not be like this. They don't want a dialogue, they just want to threaten and stop you.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

What is it about this particular election that bothers you?

This is most communalised election we've had in Karnataka. I know, I'm from Karnataka, I was born here, I've lived here. They are communalising because they are desperate. The Centre cannot stop things from falling apart anymore. People who are desperate are the most dangerous to society.

Three pre-poll surveys are projecting a hung parliament.

I don't think the BJP will make it here. They won't even make it in their own laboratory (the coastal region).

They have no faces. They are waiting for Modi, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath. Yogi has already lost his ground here. Modi has already been made to feel uncomfortable here. The 20 day program that he wanted to do isn't happening. He's coming down just for five days now.

There is a history of Basava parampara in Karnataka. There is the Navya literary movement that has happened. There is a Dalit movement that has happened here. We are not comfortable with communal politics.

"Gauri Lankesh's murder was a silencing act. There is an attempt to get an ideology into the head of people, but Hindus won't accept the hijacking of religion."

Still, it looks pretty neck-and-neck at the moment.

The old (BJP) candidates have gone, new ones are coming in.

The Reddy brothers have come back. The BJP chief ministerial candidate (BS Yeddyurappa) calls them the greatest saviours of the party. Amit Shah says don't even go near them. They should do a pre-poll survey now. People are watching all this and people like me are there to remind them if they forget.

You are asking people to vote for Congress. Do you feel comfortable with that?

There is no place for being comfortable, right now. We need to speak clearly. First, we have to fight communal politics, which is more dangerous than corruption. Then, we'll have the strength to question the next round of people.

Whatever has happened, the political system that has become so bad, it is not just the politicians, we are also responsible. We need to suffer a little bit as well.

Who else, then?

The BJP won't win. It will be someone else. Life finds a way to sort these things out.

Everyone is trying. Someone has to bell the cat. If Jignesh is coming here and speaking in Hindi and people are still coming to listen then it is having an impact. It may not move everyone but it may help people who have already moved.

Does this get personal?

Gauri Lankesh's murder was a silencing act. There is an attempt to get an ideology into the head of people, but Hindus won't accept the hijacking of religion.

They want to brand me anti-Hindu which I am not. They want to get into my personal life, they are more bothered about my son's death and where I am sleeping. But lies do not become truths just because you say it a hundred times. It's just that we'll have to hang on, to continue, to pursue. Your fear becomes somebody else's power.