The BJP government at the centre has nominated four notable people from the South to the Rajya Sabha. Soon, music composer Ilaiyaraaja, former athlete PT Usha, acclaimed screenwriter V Vijayendra Prasad and spiritual leader Veerendra Heggade will be serving as members of the upper house of the parliament. Their tenure will be till the end of July 2028.
The nomination of these luminaries from four southern states might not be political in nature, but indeed highlights the Bharatiya Janata Party’s big push in the South and aligns with the recently concluded executive meet held in Hyderabad. The decision to nominate four South Indians is being considered as an unprecedented decision, given how the governing party has been considered historically weaker in the South.
While it is the President of India who can nominate a total of 12 members to the Rajya Sabha, based on their contributions towards arts, literature, sciences, and social services, over time the ruling political parties have used this as opportunity to get their preferred members into the parliament.
As of now, there are nine nominated members in the Rajya Sabha, with advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, former chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, politician Ram Shakal and dancer Sonal Mansingh who are yet to complete their term.
So who are the four luminaries from the South nominated to the Rajya Sabha?
The Music Maestro from Tamil Nadu
Ilaiyaraaja, Ragadevan (Lord of Ragas) to many, but revered as Isaignani (Saint Musician) by almost every music lover in the South India was born in a Dalit family in Tamil Nadu's Theni district. Despite his humble background and the politics of dominant caste driven music industry, Ilaiyaraaja made himself a career based purely on talent.
His career spans over five decades and he has composed over 8000 songs in 1000 different movies. Though, his music has been predominantly for Tamil cinema, he is also credited with composing music for Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam industries.
Ilayaraja has often faced flak from several political quarters.
There are also reports that suggested that Ilaiyaraaja refused to make music for a film based on EV Ramasamy's life.
Nevertheless, the genius has won a place in the hearts of the common folk. His images as paintings and even photographs continue to hang in every corner. Like Cho Ramasamy once remarked that the Ilaiyaraaja retained his classical expertise, and yet echoed the subaltern voice through his unique compositions.
The Queen of Tracks from Kerala
PT Usha, popularly known as the 'Payyoli Express', is a sports icon hailing from Kozhikode in Kerala. Starting her career as an athlete, Usha began sprinting at the professional level in 1979.
Over the course of next two decades, Usha dominated track and won five golds in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles and 400m relay in the 1985 Jakarta Asian Championships.
She also created history by setting a national record of finishing 4x100m relay in just 44.43 seconds and winning the gold with Valdivel Jayalakshmi, Rachita Mistry, and EB Shyla in the 1998 Asian Championships in Athletics.
Ever since her retirement as a competing athlete, Usha has been a trainer and a coach, inspiring thousands of sportspersons across the country. She also runs the Usha School of Athletics in Kerala's Kinalur and was also approached by the BJP earlier to contest the 2021 assembly elections in Kerala.
Acclaimed Screenwriter from Andhra Pradesh
V Vijayendra Prasad is a famed screenwriter from Andhra Pradesh has written many stories and directed films in the Telugu and Hindi film industry. Credited for his work in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Bahubali 1 & 2, RRR and many more, Vijayendra Prasad has been a leading personality in Indian cinema.
He and his son SS Rajamouli worked together and created Magadheera, Bahubali Series and RRR which also broke several records in India and abroad. The film is said to have broken regional boundaries and gained a mass appeal across the country.
Spiritual Leader and Philanthropist From Karnataka
"I have had the opportunity to pray at the Dharmasthala Temple and also witness the great work he is doing in health, education and culture", tweeted PM Narendra Modi welcoming spiritual head of Dharmasthala Veerendra Heggade to the Rajya Sabha.
Hailing from a Jain a family called Pergade of Tulunad, Heggade's ancestors have traditionally been the trustees of a Hindu temple in Dharamastala. Heggade and the trust has also worked extensively on farming issues, food distribution and philanthropy across Dakshina Kannada.
Being a farmer himself, Heggade also started the Rural Development and Self-Employment Training Institute (RDSETI) to ensure skill development among youth of Dakshina Kannada.
Can BJP Breach the South?
In the recently concluded, national executive meet in Hyderabad, the BJP had asserted its intention to expand its footprint in the South. In an earlier report by Nikhila Henry for The Quint, a senior BJP leader had remarked, "What is the difference between the south and the north? It is one nation and one campaign. What is relevant in Uttar Pradesh is relevant in Kerala or Karnataka too.”
One must look beyond politics when it comes to these appointments. All the four members are highly respected members of our society and have immensely worked in their respective fields. But, one cannot ignore the fact that BJP will benefit from his and will have very little opposition.Vishwas Shetty, Political Analyst
Speaking to The Quint, senior journalist Tyagaraj Sharma said, "BJP would like a foothold in the south and what is happening in terms of administration in Karnataka is not fine. Clearly the BJP wants to set things right ahead of the elections and also not be a target for the opposition, given their careful choice of nominating eminent people from the South.
"They want to make foray into states where they do not have substantial presence. They want to address the mass, identify figures who hitherto have not been identified before and also ensure expansion of their political space," said Vishwas Shetty, a political analyst to The Quint.
A senior Karnataka BJP leader requesting anonymity said, "The choice of candidates is not political in nature. But, one must also note that the choice has been a careful one, to ensure diverse ideological presence and creative presence in our parliament. Earlier governments have done it too."
In an effort to expand politically, the BJP also seems to be trying to project a pan-India image based on the ideology of Hindutva and politics of PM Narendra Modi.
In the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the BJP's presence is very limited, the battle is more ideological, than being political.
Meanwhile in Karnataka, just a year ahead of the elections, the BJP is trying woo masses across the state. After BS Yediyurappa's retirement from chief ministership, the party is trying to avoid failing to get the majority like it did in 2018.
The BJP's vote share in Karnataka was 36.35 percent, while Congress received 38.14 percent and JDS got 18.3 percent. However, the BJP was able to form the government as 17 MLAs belonging to the Congress and JD(S) shifted parties and extended their support to BS Yediyurappa.