Independent India’s first “extremist was a Hindu”, actor-politician Kamal Haasan told an election rally on Sunday while describing Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse.
The comment drew a sharp response from the state BJP, which slammed the Makkal Needhi Maiyam founder for indulging in “divisive politics”.
The Congress and the Dravidar Kazhagam, a rationalist organisation floated by the late E.V. Ramasamy, better known as Periyar, however, backed the MNM leader.
Haasan, who was addressing an election campaign in bypoll-bound Aravakurichi on Sunday night, said he was one of those “proud Indians” who desired an India of equality and where the “three colours” in the Tricolour, an obvious reference to different faiths, “remained intact”.
“I am not saying this because this is a Muslim-dominated area, but I am saying this before a statue of Gandhi. Free India’s first extremist was a Hindu, his name is Nathuram Godse. There it starts,” he said, possibly referring to extremism.
Haasan said he was a “self-assumed great-grandson” of Gandhi and had come “seeking answers for that murder”, alluding to Gandhi’s assassination in 1948.
“Good Indians desire equality and want the three colours in the Tricolour to remain intact. I am a good Indian, will proudly proclaim that,” he added.
BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan said Godse was hanged for the “heinous” crime but it was “strongly condemnable” that Haasan had used the phrase “Hindu extremism” in a Muslim-dominated area.
“Though he talks of taking forward a new kind of politics, he also indulged in the old, mischievous, poisonous and divisive vote bank politics,” Soundararajan said in a statement.
The remarks, she added, amounted to inciting “communal violence”.
The state BJP has approached the Election Commission seeking action against Haasan for “gross violation” of the model code of conduct.
Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in Delhi the actor’s comment “proves he does not understand the difference between an assassin and a terrorist”.
“An assassin is very different from a terrorist. Therefore, if only he goes through the entire history and also follows up on the trial of Mahatma Gandhi, he would know the difference,” she said.
Tamil Nadu minister K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji said: “His tongue should be cut of…. Extremism has no religion, neither Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian.” The senior AIADMK leader also sought a ban on the MNM for “sowing violence”.
Actor Vivek Oberoi, who has played Narendra Modi in a biopic on the Prime Minister, also slammed Haasan, saying art and terror “have no religion” and asked if Godse’s faith had been mentioned to corner Muslim votes.
“Dear Kamal sir, you are a great artist. Just like art has no religion, terror has no religion either! You can say Godse was a terrorist, why would you specify Hindu? Is it because you were in a Muslim dominated area looking for votes?” Oberoi said in a tweet.