The Congress claims he will divide the ‘secular vote’, those on the Right term him ‘anti-Hindu’, but Prakash Raj says his message to the electorate of Bangalore Central is about education, healthcare and the lack of jobs. “When a citizen faces the real problem of jobs, real problem of water these things don’t matter,” he says, adding it’s time to realise the power of an independent candidate.
Having announced earlier this year that he will not enter electoral politics, Prakash Raj says his election campaign doesn’t involve the typical roadshow and mega rallies but corner meetings and conversations. “I am very sure that this country is ready for alternate politics from these two political parties. And I have had a conversation with people over the past six months,” he says.
With a day left for campaigning, Prakash Raj says for him the campaign has only just begun and he has 15 more years ahead. “I will strive, I will continue to have a conversation. I want to know, we want to know how many people are ready for alternative politics,” he says.
Excerpts from his interview to indianexpress.com
You had earlier said you did not see yourself contesting elections, but you have now entered electoral politics. What has changed?
Prakash Raj: If you asked me, I would have said no because I always thought I will be an external opposition party to any system and that’s what an artist should do. But we realised the root cause… it’s the reason I’ve decided to enter electoral politics. The root cause of all corruption and non-governance is the electoral process. I think it’s time for people like me who are what we are because of society… it’s not just our talent. It’s across religion across languages. When we can afford we need to come out of our comfort zone for the country and reclaim the democracy and reclaim our voice.
In this country elections is branding, it’s an event, it’s marketing and it’s high time… if we don’t step in it will be us who did not take up the responsibility. It was more important for me to leave my comfort zone… I don’t have to think of poverty all my life though I’ve come from a poor background. I have nothing to lose, I have everything to gain.
Your life should be relevant and I feel the relevance was this electoral process.
What is your take on the BJP and Congress manifestos?
Prakash Raj: They are like charity organisations… we don’t need charity. One will give Rs 72,000 the other will give 6,000. You will do NYAY by giving our own money back… what happened to your Rs 15 lakh? These are all votebank politics. There is no intention and no vision to it.
Look at what Prime Minister Narendra Modi is saying. I am ashamed of a prime minister like that. He can’t stoop low. His party man says if you have Ali I have Bajrang Bali… what is the communal narrative there? Why do you bring communalism into it? That there is no Hindu terrorism… Who was Ghodse then? Is that important to this country or the job crisis? Will you talk on issues the country is facing? Politics is a conversation between the contestant and the voter.
What is your take on the election now becoming ‘Vote for a PM vs vote for a candidate’?
Prakash Raj: How stupid it is… why don’t you understand who should do their jobs. The responsibility of a citizen is to elect a parliamentarian of a constituency… whichever party he belongs to is not important to the electorate. There are 500+ parliamentarians, it is their job to elect the leader and opposition leader. Just because you want Modi to be elected you will end up aiding a criminal? Or someone who does not work? Mr Modi or Mr Rahul Gandhi is not going to run your constituency.
Your candidate needs to have an idea of the reasons we are at this brink and then a vision with a solution.
The Constitution is so clear. There is no political party in the Constitution. This country is democratic but the solutions should be federal in nature, federal in spirit. We have different languages, different cultures, different geographies. The right people who are elected will definitely elect the right leader. Why are you jumping?
In this highly polarised time, how many people do you think will listen to your reasoning?
Prakash Raj: I started alone. I am not alone. You see the ground reality. Just because it is polarising shouldn’t a voice be raised against it? And I am very sure that this country is ready for alternate politics from these two political parties. And I’ve had a conversation with people over the past six months.
The Congress Party says your candidature will result in a split in what’s termed as the ‘secular vote’. What’s your take?
Prakash Raj: They keep terming it as a secular vote. First of all, the Congress can say this if they have won the seat. Just because they call themselves secular, we need to question — are they really secular? We allege secularism on them. They do exactly what BJP’s criminal politics is doing. With whose permission do they claim they are a Muslim party or a Christian party? Religious minorities have realised they are being used as a votebank.
When a citizen faces the real problem of jobs, real problem of water these things don’t matter. I think Congress, this time, will lose it’s so called claim to secular vote.
Should you win, what will your focus on policy be in Parliament?
Prakash Raj: Because of this majoritarian narrative, every MP who represents lakhs of votes or people, becomes one vote to a party. And if we observe, any MP is not able to react with conscience, even if their party makes a mistake or the policies are not pro-people. We need Independent candidates, independent of these parties, who will raise (these issues). And the power of an Independent candidate is there in the Constitution. Just because it has not worked we don’t know.
There are standing committees where he can raise questions and not let bills pass. It is not majority anymore. There has to be a discussion and if he’s right, he will question. The problem is they don’t. Because it’s not done and therefore we have not realised the power of it.
You have maintained an anti-BJP stance but with there now emerging a gathbandhan, you haven’t made clear whether you will be a part of it or stay out of it
Prakash Raj: Exactly. Why are you worried about that at all? We need to be supportive to issues. It is conditional. You need not join any political party and all independents who have come in their five-year term have been bought. Or they go. Someone asked me what will you do as an independent, I’m asking, what has the majority done?
You are not electing your parliamentarian or your MP to the corridors of power. You are electing them to the corridors of responsibility. Why have we brought about this idea that power is important? What is power? It is responsibility.
Prakash Raj: Is it necessary for lawyers to get in? Is it necessary for doctors to contest? Do you ask these questions? We are all citizens of this country. Everybody has their manifesto, let them talk their language come to the people and the people will decide. In a democracy, no party or candidate wins or loses if you the people chose a wrong man you lose, if you chose the right one, you win.
How do you see your transition from a film star to a politician?
Prakash Raj: Why are you looking at me as a film star? The transition has been liberating. To be known as an actor is to be known for your role and lines. But the country knows me for the stance I have taken, for the villages I have adopted, the social work I do, the comfort zone I have left. I am not talking about how to act or how to make music. I’m talking about how to solve a water crisis. How to fix the job crisis. That’s not acting. It’s a thought process.
You speak about branded politics, now that they’ve branded you anti-Hindu, how do you fight it out?
Prakash Raj: I don’t fight it out. We fight it out. In conversation with the people. Until and unless we realise we need to claim our republic back, our right to have participatory democracy. The spirit of democracy or republic is not going to survive.
Amit Shah has said that should the BJP retain power, they will ensure of infiltrators except Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs will be thrown out of the country.
Prakash Raj: Who is Amit Shah? What is he known for? He is known for being a goon. He can buy, he can polarise. I don’t even consider him as a loser. He will speak what he is. I just want to neglect it.
You have a day left for campaigning. What’s ahead?
Prakash Raj: I don’t have a day left, I have 15 years left. This is my way of life, and this is the beginning. I have a day left for this election. I will strive, I will continue to have a conversation. I want to know, we want to know how many people are ready for alternative politics. Based on the numbers we will decide our next move. One of our leaders.