At first, young writers and orators, claiming to be non-partisan, raise their voice against the opposition parties and their ideologies. Then they carry a wielded attack on the media. Then try build a Hindutva narrative and praise right-wing leaders on social media platforms. And then, they claim to be social activists working for people’s causes. Then they’d become the face of right-wing supporters and trolls.
We had similar narratives built in Karnataka with Chakravarty Sulibele, the founder of the Yuva Brigade (earlier Namo Brigade) with the rise of the BJP in Karnataka over the past decade. Sulibele became a youth icon in the initial years and later aligned with the ideologies of the BJP.
Turn to 2020, we see similar development in Tamil Nadu, with elections approaching next year.
Over the last two weeks, there has been a concerted effort in Tamil Nadu to discredit the media, bring up the anti-Dravidian debate, propagate false claims that “RSS workers” are under attack and also evoke religious and nationalist sentiment.
A few people, claiming to be non-partisan and non-affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh, have started a smear campaign against a section of the media. In parallel, the BJP, with the support of the RSS, is working at the grassroots level, conducting district meetings and creating booth-level WhatsApp groups for social media campaigns ahead of the elections.
YouTuber and writer Maridhas M, who usually puts out videos against the Dravidian party leaders and the Congress, in a video post on July 2, targeted the journalists of television channel News18 Tamil Nadu and accused them of being “anti-Hindu.” Besides, he alleged that they had direct and indirect connections with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK).
A few days later, he attacked journalists employed with other media organisations as well. Soon after, Maridhas claimed that DMK members have threatened to attack him and sought police protection.
On July 10, Maridhas posted another video with a screenshot of an email, purportedly from News18 editor Vinay Sarawagi, and claimed that the organisation’s management has taken notice of his earlier video and “accepted” all the allegations against the Tamil Nadu team.
However, the email, the screenshot of which he used, was not from Sarawagi. The editor took to Twitter to reject Maridhas’s claim as false.
There is a forged email in my name circulating on Twitter and WhatsApp. My office has initiated legal action in the matter.
— Vinay Sarawagi (@jagora) July 10, 2020
“There is a forged email in my name circulating on Twitter and WhatsApp. My office has initiated legal action in the matter,” he tweeted.
The channel has also approached Chennai police, seeking suitable action for making false claims and posting fabricated email conversation.
Maridhas, an ardent fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, much like Sulibele, claims he is not associated with the BJP or the RSS. However, all his videos are on pro-Hindutva topics and against politicians opposing the BJP’s ideology.
From corruption to economy, Godse to Periyar, Rajinikath to Kamal Haasan and their entry into politics, Maridhas has posted videos on all such topics over the past two years. He has posted about 240 videos since 2018 with nearly 29 million views overall.
And, at the same time, The Commune Magazine published a narrative of journalist Madan Ravichandran of Channel Vision, claiming “Periyarists and communists” impose ideological hegemony in Tamil media. He accused them of creating a favourable narrative for the DMK.
While Maridhas did not answer calls, Madan could not be reached for his comments. For the BJP, though these people are posting as “independent” journalists, their narrative seems to help them as it suits their agenda.
According to a political analyst, the internal analysis after the party’s debacle in the 2019 general elections in Tamil Nadu, hinted at lack of support for the BJP from regional media. And hence, the party now wants to discredit leading anchors and TV channels, and build a counter-narrative.
When asked if Maridhas and Madan are part of the BJP, the party’s spokesperson, Narayanan Thirupathy, said that if mainstream TV journalists accept that they are part of the DMK and the communist party, then they wouldn’t mind considering these two as part of the BJP.
The BJP is trying hard to fill the vacuum created in the absence of the late former chief ministers, J Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi. But with no leader in sight for the BJP in Tamil Nadu, Modi becomes the messiah who can rescue the people from Dravidian parties.
“People like Maridhas, Madan or channels like Chanakya (run by TV anchor Rangaraj Pandey) have their independent opinion and they are creating awareness, being non-political. But the concerns they raise certainly helps us push our agenda,” Kuppuramu Duraipandi, state vice president, Tamil Nadu BJP, told The Federal over phone.
When questioned that if these people are backed by the BJP and whether the party would support them in their cause, Duraipandi, who also served as the NMDC director in the past, claimed they are not part of the BJP, but when time comes, the party wouldn’t mind asking them to join hands to consolidate the Hindu vote bank.
Duraipandi further said that with elections fast approaching, they are creating WhatsApp groups now at the block level and that they already have presence in about 83 per cent of the total 66,000 booths in Tamil Nadu. With 100 members in each group, the party wants to spearhead the social media campaigns in the state.
The party is even appointing Shakti-kendra karyakartas, micro-level election managers, of the BJP to steer the programme at booth level.
“Tamil Nadu’s mainstream political parties have always pushed Dravidam (Dravidian) and nathigam (atheism) as the core during polls. But we want to take the route of deivigam (spiritual) and desiyam (nationalism),” Duraipandi added.
With BJP national president BL Santhosh and Karnataka Minister CT Ravi, both staunch RSS supporters who were responsible for organising the support base in Karnataka, steering the BJP in Tamil Nadu, the party hopes to bring a considerable change at the grassroots level.
Commenting on the developments, Achimuthu Shankar (alias Savukku Shankar), a whistle-blower-turned-journalist who came under attack by right-wing trolls, said that as the BJP is not having their own channel in Tamil Nadu, they are trying to use people like Madan and Maridhas to push their agenda.
“When people like Madan attack (DMK chief) MK Stalin and others, they are too small for those politicians to respond and counter-attack. But that’s how the BJP has built a campaign against them in the absence of a dedicated news channel for them in Tamil Nadu,” Shankar said. “They and their videos become food for right-wing trolls.”