The controversy around music maestro Ilaiyaraaja drawing parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Dr BR Ambedkar in his foreword for a book doesn’t seem to cease anytime soon.
Some time back, filmmaker and actor Bhagyaraj faced heat for comparing PM Modi’s critics to "premature babies".
Now, a video from one of the rallies of Periyarist organization, the Dravida Kazhagam, has gone viral. Speaking at an event in Erode, former Tamil Nadu Congress President EVKS Elangovan, who is also the grand nephew of Periyar, said, “In Tamil Nadu, there are some people who call themselves ‘kings of music’. All those who pick up a tabla cannot become music composers. Those who, at some point, struggled for food, now consider themselves upper caste after gaining fame and money.”
He added, “I am talking about Ilaiyaraaja. He’s above 80 years of age, but calls himself ‘Ilaiyaraaja’ (young king). In the beginning, you [Ilaiyaraaja] sang about workers’ welfare. But now, you have become a ‘bhaktimaan’ (man of faith). It is your right. But what does it mean to compare Ambedkar with Modi?”. K Veeramani, president of Dravidar Kazhagam, was among the dignitaries on stage with Elangovan.
Illangovan was called out on social media for humiliating Ilaiyaraaja by referring to his caste. He was also criticised for not adhering to the value system of the organization that was founded by an anti caste visionary like Periyar.
Director Pa Ranjith reacted to the video by tweeting, “EVKS says such things, and K Veeramani claps. Is this the way to critique Ilaiyaraaja? For such a casteist mindset to be displayed, that too on a Periyarist platform, is deeply condemnable.”
Speaking at an art exhibition that is a part of the ongoing Vaanam Festival organised by Neelam Cultural Centre during the Dalit History Month (April), Ranjith had said, “If Ilaiyaraaja’s comments are being spoken about so widely, it shows the reach of his music. The value of that artist. You cannot separate an artist from their work. Ilaiyaraaja broke social inequalities with his music. He democratized music.”
Ranjith added that artistes like Ilaiyaraaja are being used to speak about certain brands of politics. “So far, Illaiyaraaja has never made political statements. Wherever he speaks, he speaks about his music. It is important to remember where that music has come from. I see this [Ilaiyaraaja’s recent remarks about Modi] as an attempt to add words to his mouth”.