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Every Tamil seeking solace often turns to Ilaiyaraja songs. This may sound an exaggeration but has an element of truth, for Ilaiyaraja’s music rules the hearts and minds of Tamils. In the last few days, however, his writing has ruled media space in Tamil Nadu.

The preface Ilaiyaraja wrote for a book comparing Narendra Modi and B R Ambedkar has kicked off a row. The book, published by Blue Kraft Foundation, seeks to build a narrative that Narendra Modi is implementing a reformist, Ambedkar’s ideas.

The cover of the book advertises that the preface has been written by Ilaiyaraja, indicating how much value the preface has. Many of the voices that have routinely praised Ilaiyaraja are now criticizing him now because of the preface.

A few days before, A R Rahman had tweeted a painting by Santosh Narayanan that showed Mother Tamil carrying the Tamil letter of the alphabet, “Zha”, as her weapon. This came just as Union Home Minister Amit Shah said Hindi should be the link language between people. As if to reinforce that the tweet was not unrelated to Shah, Rahman tweeted again, saying Tamil should be the link language. With these, Rahman has demonstrated, once again, that he is outside the BJP ideological framework.

Coming on the heels of the Rahman episode, Ilaiyaraja’s preface has been critiqued. And its impact is being observed.

In the preface, Ilaiyaraja has gone beyond just praising Narendra Modi. He has compared Modi and Ambedkar in a positive way, leading to much criticism of his article.

Ilaiyaraja’s music has a certain mature quality to it. It has spiritual depth and restraint. But his words do not seem to have that quality. Ilaiyaraja is an expert in music, not politics. His understanding of politics is limited.

The preface Ilaiyaraja wrote for a book comparing Narendra Modi and B R Ambedkar has kicked off a row. The book, published by Blue Kraft Foundation, seeks to build a narrative that Narendra Modi is implementing a reformist, Ambedkar’s ideas.

Besides Modi and Ambedkar, the only other human being featured in the cover of the book is Ilaiyaraja. This makes the intent of the book clear.

From his side, it has been communicated that Ilaiyaraja had read and understood the book before writing the preface. Ilaiyaraja knew what he was doing and was therefore well aware of its implications. He has also said that he will not go back on it. He has also said that he will not engage with those who are criticizing him. Neither will he criticize them.

Without Ilaiyaraja’s preface, nobody would have noticed the book in Tamil Nadu. It is quite possible that the book’s intent was to bring out Ilaiyaraja as someone who supports Modi.

The BJP has been trying its best to gain traction in Tamil Nadu with little success. And the party has been searching for a face that would be acceptable, even celebrated by the people of Tamil Nadu. Ilaiyaraja would fit that bill perfectly for Tamils celebrate Ilaiyaraja as one of their own. Ilaiyaraja seems to be game for that idea.

From Tamiliisai Soundararajan to party president J P Nadda, the BJP has actively intervened to defend Ilaiyaraja against the attacks. Union minister L Murugan has said he will write to the government asking that Ilaiyaraja be given Bharat Ratna. Dravidianists have therefore smelled a rat and have been criticizing Ilaiyaraja ideologically. Dalit leader Thol Thirumavalavan says Ilaiyaraja has been captured by RSS people.

Ilaiyaraja seems to be aware that just as he has the right to express his views, so do his critics. But his supporters are trying to counterpose Ilaiyaraja’s musical achievements to beat back the criticism.

There is no denying Ilaiyaraja’s musical genius. He is an artistic treasure of Tamil Nadu. But Ilaiyaraja’s achievements are entirely due to his efforts. Only his musical acumen has helped him, nothing else. Ilaiyaraja’s identity is music. The danger lies in affixing a caste identity to him based on his birth.

Ilaiyaraja personally does not like any identity affixed to him but music. Nowhere has he stood for anything else besides his music. Just as putting down somebody on the basis of birth is unacceptable so is elevating somebody on the basis of their birth. In a modern society, highs and lows cannot be based on birth. The BJP seems to want to gain political capital by giving him the identity of a man coming from an oppressed section. For someone who doesn’t like any other identity but that of his music, Ilaiyaraja will need to be careful about his present day cohorts.


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