Tamil Nadu BJP unit scores a self goal with Mersal controversy
By upping the ante on the criticism of GST in Tamil actor Vijay’s movie Mersal the BJP state unit ended up embarrassing its national leadership and provided the film the kind of nationwide publicity its producers could not even have dreamt ofopinion Updated: Oct 24, 2017 14:23 IST
For a party that is trying so hard to build a base for itself in Tamil Nadu the Bharatiya Janata Party just shot itself in the foot. By upping the ante on the criticism against GST in the Tamil movie Mersal starring Vijay the party ended up embarrassing its national leadership and provided the film the kind of nationwide publicity its producers could not even have dreamt of.
Over the last few years, Vijay had been using political/social dialogues in many of his films. Having been at one time closely linked with the DMK (his father was close to DMK chief M Karunanidhi), Vijay has moved away from both Dravidian majors but has done little more than recite loaded dialogues in his movies as evidence of his political ambitions.
However, it is true that there are factual inaccuracies in some of the statements related to GST in Mersal. The sequence where Vijay’s character in the movie says that there is no GST for liquor, but a 12% GST for life-saving drugs is factually not quite correct, because, though not under GST, liquor is taxed at a very high rate of over 50% to sometimes even up to 100%. Apart from this there were a few other distortions.
The movie though was cleared by the censor board which saw the dialogues for what they possibly were — a mass hero trying to take on the establishment in a fictional movie by reeling off hyped up lines.
The day after the movie released, Tamil Nadu BJP president Tamizhisai Soundararajan demanded that the producers delete the dialogues related to GST and Digital India. The dialogues may have, in the normal course of events, passed off unnoticed or may have only evoked a passing mention among the viewers. After her statement, everyone, including the political parties, were interested in this issue.
By the evening this was the topic of debates on prime time television in Tamil Nadu and by the next day on national channels too.
The BJP had a right to protest either in court or to the censor board if they felt that the inaccuracies were deliberate or were part of a plan to malign the party. But the fact that the censor board, which comes under the Centre, had cleared the film with these dialogues put the party on a sticky wicket.
Instead of backing off on seeing the rather hostile public reaction the state leaders of the BJP compounded matters by talking about the tax raids on Vijay a few years ago and matters started rapidly going downhill when their all India secretary H Raja called Vijay by his full name Joseph Vijay (a name that he rarely uses in public). He then went on to tweet Vijay’s electoral voter ID card bearing his full name. This was seen as an attempt to communalise an issue that until then had no religious overtones.
BJP’s state unit was left high and dry with none of the party heavyweights in Delhi chipping in to defend them. For the party high command this was one issue they could have done without. Faced with the task of reviving a flagging economy and with key elections coming up the last thing the national leadership needed was such a distraction. No wonder the senior leaders have maintained a resounding silence and it was left to the party spokespersons to put up what seemed a half-hearted defence.
Why the state unit of the BJP decided to pursue this issue despite the backlash is a mystery. They ended up antagonising not just Vijay’s considerable fan base but also a large section of neutrals in Tamil Nadu who felt that though there were factual errors in the dialogues they were neither an integral part of the film nor were featured or repeated often enough to be seen as a deliberate attempt to malign the party.
Four or five lines in a two hour 47 minute movie could have been allowed to pass, especially as the censor board felt that way. By appearing hypersensitive to criticism and by demanding that the producer delete the scenes (which they have refused to do until now) the BJP scored a completely unnecessary own goal in Tamil Nadu.
Sumanth Raman is a Chennai-based television anchor and political analyst
The views expressed are personal