DAYS AFTER the Centre denied charges of racism in the assault on a group of Nigerians in Greater Noida, the BJP was left red-faced by its leader Tarun Vijay’s remark during a discussion on Al Jazeera that Indians cannot be called racists as they live with “black people” from the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
“If we were racist, why would we have the entire south, which is complete, you know, Tamil, you know Kerala, you know Karnataka and Andhra, why do we live with them? We have black people around us,” said Vijay.
The remarks sparked a furore, embarrassing the former MP’s party colleagues and leadership. More so, because BJP chief Amit Shah had called on Thursday for expanding the party’s roots and strengthening the organisation in southern states.
Vijay was not available for comment but apologised for his remarks, while attempting to explain them, in a series of tweets. In one tweet, he acknowledged that his remarks sounded “ridiculous and very bad”.
“In many parts of the nation we have different people, in colour and never ever we had any discrimination against them,” he posted. “My words perhaps were not enough to convey this. Feel bad, really feel sorry, my apologies to those who feel I said different than what I meant,” he wrote.
However, at least three senior BJP leaders and an MP told The Indian Express that the comments from the former editor of RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya were “extremely embarrassing” and could damage the party’s image in the south.
“It’s really bad for us that this has come the day after our party chief wanted leaders to strengthen the party in the southern states. In spite of all the explanations and the apologies, such statements will damage the party’s image and adversely affect its efforts to come up as a party for all,” said one leader.
In Kerala, where the BJP is in the race for the Lok Sabha by-election in Malappuram, a leader pointed out that Vijay’s comments have become a “hot topic” for the media.
Kerala BJP chief Kummanam Rajasekharan and former state chief V Muraleedharan said the matter should be “closed” as Vijay had apologised. But Rajasekharan said, “If there has to be an explanation, the party leadership should be asking for it.”
A BJP leader from the state said Vijay’s remark would “overshadow” the party’s attempts to highlight the “Communist violence against the BJP and the RSS” at the national level. “These leaders should be cautious in making remarks in public. With social media and visual media being so alive now, one has to be cautious,” said the leader.
When contacted by The Indian Express, BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao said, “He has realised that what he said was wrong and against the BJP’s ideology. He has apologised for it, why should we pursue it now?”
Rao said that Vijay would not have meant what he said. “This man has been working with cultural organisations in Tamil Nadu. He has carved out a space for himself in the cultural field there,” said Rao.
In one of his tweets, Vijay wrote: “I have Tamil, Bengali, Telugu in my family — worked with commitment for Tamil culture, without any politics, collectively with all.”
In another tweet, he wrote: “I can die but how can I ridicule my own culture, my own people and my own nation? Think before you misinterpret my badly framed sentence.”
That was followed by this line: “And, I never, never, even in a slip, termed south India as black. Have patience to watch the show before reacting angrily.”
In the programme, Vijay was defending India against charges of racism following the attacks on the African students.