Actor Prakash Raj has stepped up his #JustAsking campaign with just days left for Karnataka to go to the polls. The actor has been traveling across the state and recommending people not to vote for the BJP as he firmly believes the BJP and various right-wing groups have created an atmosphere of fear in the country, where an individual’s freedom of expression and choice are under threat.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Prakash Raj discussed the importance of Karnataka elections, why Bollywood has stopped offering him films, what he thinks about joining a political party and his plans to expand his #JustAsking campaign.
Below are edited excerpts from an interview with Prakash Raj.
You have become one of the few contrarian voices in the country. Do you feel alone in that space?
I’m feeling more with the people now than I used to feel. Because I think before I was so disconnected from the grassroots. Now when I travel around, people come up to me and say ‘we are happy that you opened up your voice and you have inspired us’. There is no way of feeling alone at all.
In one of the interviews, you said, you might have left Gauri Lankesh alone in her fight. Do you find considerable support from other people for your campaign?
I see more support than I expected. That’s what I see. More people are joining the Just Asking Foundation now and want to understand what we are going to do in the next 5-10 years. They are happy that I’m not from a political party. And suddenly they say, they find little more strength because of me. ‘Don’t know such important voices were speaking. We were afraid and now the fear is going away.’ And you can see it everywhere, the way the #JustAsking hashtag is being used by the people on the social media. And the mainstream media (print and television channels) did not have somebody they could come and talk to. The way they have been approaching me shows that everybody wanted a voice to speak up. And I’m so happy about it.
After the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, you feel you see a change in terms of the number of people speaking up?
What is important is, now Gauri is gone. We don’t want another Gauri. So I have been very practical. We will get the killers of Gauri. Fine. But, I want to know who pulled the trigger? What is this atmosphere of fear? Now definitely, there is a lesser chance of another Gauri happening because everybody is aware and everybody is speaking out.
So that way I’m feeling that the whole movement is awakening and today’s youngsters are stronger. They needed a voice and they are with me.
How do you perceive the Karnataka election and its impact on national politics?
It’s a very important election on the national politics. Whatever the false promises our Prime Minister or his party has made, it (Karnataka election) is a referendum on that. And it is definitely an answer to the unrest happening in the country right now. In spite of winning (Lok Sabha elections) and becoming the prime minister, in his own state Gujarat, he had come down to 99 seats. How have they lost elections in Uttar Pradesh? And yes, they will talk about Tripura. But, in Tripura, the reason was there was a 25-year-old government which did not work. It (BJP) was an alternative. But, that is not so in other cases. The way the uprising is happening in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh on the failed promises, India is looking at Karnataka to see [the wave against it].
Do you think your friend Gauri Lankesh will be a factor in this election? Should she be?
Should she be is left to every man’s consciousness because we can’t get her back? The loss is a loss. And definitely in Karnataka and other parts of the country, the sudden awakening which is happening with the voices like me is because of that and everybody’s speaking about it and she is still alive in so many people’s comments. I think she has been a very major factor.
Has India lost its voice over the past few years? Is that scary for you?
It’s not scary. It made me angry and made me fight. It’s good something like this happens. You know people wake up in this county. And everywhere across the world, whenever such things have happened, the artistes have risen. It could be a poet, sculptor, writer, filmmaker, actor. Art has risen for the sake of the society. I think I’m one of them.
Do you think to amplify your voice you will need to join a political party?
I have thought about it and I don’t believe in it. I think I have to be a voice of the people. I think that’s where my job is more. I should be a catalyst to inspire more people to come in. That is also politics.
Have political parties approached you to join them, after you started speaking up?
It happens in this country. There is only one I can name. Other than the BJP, everybody else has approached me.
You said your Bollywood offers have dried up since you become more vocal. Is that something you had anticipated?
It’s very wrong. I was asked if I have offers from Bollywood. I said no. So it is not against Bollywood. I understand that you know up north, these BJP guys and Sangh Parivar don’t understand the reasoning. They want to hit you where it hurts. That is what they did with films like Padmaavat. It has happened and is probably happening [to me now]. Once it fades away, it will be fine. It is not like that they call someone and ask to stop [giving me] films. They have created an atmosphere of fear and of unsureness, which I understand. I understand the vulnerability of the film investors.
Do you feel a similar blowback in other parts of the country?
Not in the south. They can’t come here.
Is this the only blowback you got?
There are a lot of things, which I don’t want to say. I don’t want to be a crybaby. I’m not going to lose anything in my life. It doesn’t matter to me. I have chosen a way and I have realized these things will come. It’s not a surprise for me. I’m prepared for it.
You have been traveling across Karnataka, meeting people. Your campaign may have a significant impact on the outcome of this election…
That’s what I see in the media and the people coming to me. There is a lot of support I’m getting from the social media. I’m very sure I have made a dent and I have made people realise. I have done my bit as a citizen.
Will your Just Asking campaign be limited only to Karnataka?
I am India’s voice. You can expect it to grow [further].
What do you have to say to the voters of Karnataka?
Don’t just think your vote is not important. First, learn to vote because the leaders you choose make the policies that impact every second of your life. So your naturally into politics. It is very important to be politically aware. And realise that we have also been responsible for failed governments in the past. We have voted for money, for our religion and we have also voted because we knew somebody. And we have also abstained from voting. So please think for the nation. And please think about saving the sovereignty and inclusiveness of India. And continue to ask questions after that.
After this election, will you be leading your #JustAsking campaign alone? Or will you give an organizational shape to it?
It is an organization already. We have formed district level teams already and we have chalked out a plan on how to function after June-July. Whichever government comes to power, we are going to take up people’s issues. And we are going to travel across Karnataka for the next five years, send people to speak in colleges, conduct literary festivals, theatre workshops, and tell them how they should fight for their rights.
Is it not limited to Karnataka alone?
It will not be limited to Karnataka. Anybody can get inspired. And we can work with somebody who is doing a similar job. As long as they are with the people and not with a political party.
Do you think you can manage your acting career and your #JustAsking campaign at the same time?
Probably I have to reduce some of my work [in films]. I’m not desperate to prove myself as an actor all my life. This is the way of my life for me. Instead of shooting for 365 days, I will shoot for 200 days. Nothing is wrong with it.
You were a mute spectator before. After you started speaking up, how does it feel?
I feel liberated. I feel meaningful. I feel I have a purpose. I’m more energized.
In a public event last year, you said and I quote that “I am a big actor myself and I can tell when you’re acting.” It caused a widespread reaction in the country. Do you think that was a turning point for you?
The minute I said that I saw how many people loved it and started following me [on Twitter]. And the people who are against me. And I knew the battle line was drawn. It was the beginning.
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