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Savukku Shankar, a social media influencer, popular for his stormy petrel image, has courted trouble for his anti-establishment remarks.  In an interview to, he shared his insights into the burgeoning of social media and the problems plaguing the mainstream print and visual media, the run-ins he has had with both the Dravidian parties and their governments and opened up on allegations that he was a sanghi (adherent of the BJP-RSS ideology) on mission to malign the DMK.

On the phenomenal growth of social media and the no-holds-barred style of people online, quite unlike mainstream media till recently, Savukku said, “We have come a long way from the days when there were only newspapers and the Doordarshan to feed us daily news” People over the age of 50 know what it was like to open a newspaper and go through the reports at a leisurely pace, he said pointing out ironically that the excitement of the newspaper then was something social media news peddlers can never evoke today!

Advertisement driven model
Pointing out that mainstream print and TV outlets are caught in an ad-driven system,  Savukku Shankar said the printing of a daily newspaper, in fact, costs Rs. 30, but is sold at around Rs. 5. It is only advertisements from various sectors including the government which help a media house not only make up the apparent loss but also earn an overall profit. So is the case with the TV channels which endlessly chase TRPs to ensure a steady stream of advertising revenue.

This model he said leads not surprisingly to bias in news coverage by major media houses and TV channels. For instance, the government may, in exchange for advertisements demand favourable news coverage, toeing its line. Mainstream media is hamstrung by several constraints, nullifying expectations from news consumers of fair, objective and unprejudiced reportage.

 The DMK has already lost its basic spirit of the Dravidian ideology – rationalistic, atheistic and analytical.  The DMK wants all anti-BJP forces to rally behind it as if the Dravidian ideology is the party’s own privileged domain

But such compulsions and pressures are missing on social media wherein innumerable ‘journalists’ are disseminating ‘information’ in an endless stream, all available at the click on a mobile phone.  In this ‘infodemic’ there is no relaxed reading, let alone analysis, said Savukku Shankar, adding it’s a free-for-fall thanks to technology that has made everyone with a phone an expert or ideologue without checks and balances.

Asked if this social media trend was dangerous and if it was necessary to impose some restrictions on this kind of ‘digital freedom of expression’, Savukku Shankar said restrictions would not pay off. It is rather consumers who sift through the pile of information on social media that differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly.  Over time, the good will stand steadfast and the bad will fall by the wayside. What is needed is self-regulation or self-restraint on the part of the social media creators, he remarked.

Also Read: Savukku Shankar: ‘Can we trust news media?’

DMK U-turn
Criticizing the DMK for its anti-rationalist activities, Savukku Shankar recalled how the party used the vel (spear)  as an antidote when the then BJP leader L Murugan went on a padayatra, holding aloft vel.  That was the moment that demonstrated how the DMK had already lost its basic spirit of the Dravidian ideology – rationalistic, atheistic and analytical.  Stating that the DMK wants all anti-BJP forces to rally behind it as if the Dravidian ideology is the party’s own privileged domain, Savukku said in fact, the DMK is just an offshoot which has considerably watered down the ideological fundamentals of the Dravidian movement which dates back to the days of the Justice Party. The DMK’s so-called social justice is just a sham or a parody of the Justice Party’s original ideals, he insisted.

“Just because I am criticizing the DMK government they call me a sanghi. But when I was taking on the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government, I was branded as a DMK man. In fact, I have been castigating both the Dravidian majors right from 2006,” he said. Even when Jayalalithaa was in power, “I described her as a lady who goes to prison (‘siraikku sellum seemaatti’); I criticized her for converting the massive building that the DMK government had constructed to house the new Assembly into a multi-super-specialty hospital and for having abolished the ‘samacheerkalvi’.  Even then cases were foisted on me and I was advised by some personally to tone down my criticism of Jayalalithaa,” he recalled.

To drive home how the DMK government always goes out to suppress dissenters or detractors, Savukku Shankar narrated his experience of having been imprisoned recently with the trauma of torture.  “Instead of putting me in Puzhal prison in Chennai, they lodged me in Cuddalore prison far away so my family based in Chennai would be unable to meet me. The government did all it could to suppress, demoralize and deter me,” he remarked.

In prison, he undertook a fast to exercise his democratic right. The doctors who examined him said he was nearing coma and then he was forcibly administered IV fluids. Shankar quoted a top police official as saying that “it was Shankar vs State… let the guy die in prison itself”.

He pointed out how those in power suppress the truth and go to any extent to gag those who stand up to power.

“See, as a media man I collect news and put it out; it is up to the consumers whether to take it or not. But I always present unbiased and objective reports. I do my media work only to educate people,” he said. For instance, when the death of a girl student in Kallakurichi rocked the state, everyone said the incident followed sexual molestation. “But investigating the ground reality, I said the girl’s death happened following her love affair.  Then I was accused of taking sides with the school management, getting money from them,” he said.

The independent social analyst said irrespective of whichever party was in power, it always adopts all tricks in the book to gag dissent and even throws its ideology to the winds in the pursuit of power.  “The DMK, which calls me now a ‘sanghi’, once allied with the same BJP.  Was it not Murasoli Maran who supported the BJP in Parliament in a full-throated defence of the saffron party? Was it not he who simply dismissed the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat the 2002 as “Gujarat’s internal affairs”, asked Savukku.

The DMK, which calls me now a ‘sanghi’, once allied with the same BJP.  Was it not Murasoli Maran who supported the BJP in Parliament in a full-throated defense of the saffron party? Was it not he who simply dismissed the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat the 2002 as “Gujarat’s internal affairs?”

The DMK, which had advocated the release of the seven Rajiv Gandhi murder case convicts, has not bothered about the Muslim convicts languishing in prison for murdering an RSS man, he said.  The TN government’s advocate, who filed an affidavit, simply said in the Supreme Court, “Let the Muslim convicts be in prison for their release poses a danger to the society.”

But the party claims itself as a sole champion of social justice, rubbing shoulders with leaders of minorities, Savukku added.

Also Read: The contempt case against Savukku Shankar

Fertile soil for secularism
Explaining that the present DMK was a far cry from the DMK of the 1960s imbued with Periyar’s ideals, Savukku said it was more appropriate to say that Tamil Nadu embraced Periyar rather saying that Periyar had enlightened Tamil Nadu.  The reason why Periyar got a warm reception in Tamil Nadu was that the state already had a track record of values of social justice, religious harmony and humanism.

Underlining the basic secular spirit of Tamil Nadu, Savukku said when the hijab issue rocked the neighbouring Karnataka, it did not find any echo on Tamil Nadu. Similarly when riots broke out in the north following the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, there were no such incidents in TN. And still further back when the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984 engulfed Delhi and other northern states, following former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, it did not percolate down to TN.

Tamil Nadu has stood like a solid rock against all anti-humanistic violence because it is fundamentally pro-man and pro-humanism.  It is a state which never allows religion to get the better of humanism.  It is this Tamil cultural truth that keeps the BJP from gaining a foothold in this land, he said.

“If Periyar had spoken in Kannada in Karnataka or in Hindi in the northern belt, he would have been a damp squib,” said Savukku Shankar. “Periyar’s speeches and writings struck a chord with Tamilians who have a long tradition that holds aloft man above God and infuses humanism into religion.  Hence, Tamil Nadu accorded a warm reception to his ideology, except for its atheistic component,” he said.

But the DMK that prides itself on being a staunch follower of Periyar and Anna has made several departures from their principles, Savukku Shankar pointed out. For instance, in the Senthil Balaji case, the Stalin-led DMK proclaims its intention not to toe the BJP line and says it is ready to lose power rather than be subservient to the saffron party.  But if Stalin’s close kin, say, Sabareesan (son-in-law) or Udhayanidhi (son) had been in Senthil Balaji’s place, the DMK would have gone down on its knees before the BJP, predicted the political analyst.

Signing off on an ominous note, Savukku Sankar said, “Come 2024, the DMK will surrender to the BJP.”

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