India's "chellam"aana actor Prakash Raj has officially stepped into the choppy political waters. Raj, who has not shied away from raising his voice against both the ruling BJP and Congress, is in the fray this year from the Bangalore Central constituency as an Independent candidate. Accusing the national parties of lacking vision and ignoring the poor, he expressed the confidence that the people of his constituency will think it through this time and elect the right candidate. Express caught up with the actor-turned-politician on his campaign trail. Excerpts:
Why are you contesting as an Independent candidate? Isn't it risky?
There's nothing risky in a democracy. We are in a denial mode. These two parties (the BJP and the Congress) have created so much of disillusionment among the people. Enough of the tamasha. They don't have a clear vision. I think we need the citizens' voice in Parliament to ensure the problems of the common man are heard.
You are a bigger household name (in your constituency) given the fact that you are a film star, but there are people who question your political ability...
We see actors, doctors and lawyers getting into politics. I am not going to the people asking for votes based on my popularity as an actor. People have seen me more as an activist. They have also seen me as a struggling actor. They have seen me adopting villages as well. In the last few years, they have seen me coming out of my comfort zone and taking stances. People have had conversations with me for two decades.
The campaign is in full-fledged mode. How has the response been?
I started early. My issue with political parties is that people get to know the candidates only a few days ahead of the polls because they calculate way too much. This shows the dearth of good leaders in their ranks and their desperation. Elections should be a conversation between the candidate and the people and that is exactly what I have ensured. I don't believe in big rallies. I believe in small town-hall meetings. And that way, there has been a dialogue and the reception I have been receiving is encouraging. I'm sure Bangalore Central will think this time before they vote.
What of the Bangalore today and the Bangalore that you envision?
We had 250 lakes and now it's down to 50 because of the pollution. We only show Cubbon Park or Lalbagh when showing Banglore. It's like someone has taken a broom and brushed aside the poor. The poor are the voters.
Housing is a major problem in the city and so is the water crisis. After 70 years of Independence, if a woman has to be worried about drinking water, this is not living with respect and dignity. Look at the government schools today. The poor can't have a dream. You're only talking about national security and polarisation, but where is the vision? We had an MP for 10 years, didn't he think about what to do with the population, the lakes.
If you win tomorrow, do you think you'll be able to bring changes in the larger political narrative since you are an independent?
It is a trap that the national parties have sprung. What has the majority done? Every candidate is representing their constituency. They later come together in consensus to become the ruling combine or the Opposition. Is there an MP that will ensure that every decision taken is in favour of the people? We need to remove the country from the clutches of national parties. Education, health and farming cannot be a state subject anymore. We need voices that are independent of parties and polarisation.
You are neither with the BJP or the Congress. So what is your political ideology?
Both Congress and BJP are not secular. Where there is barely any development, the ideology doesn't matter. Being secular is not being with the minority, it's to be with everyone.
What lessons from your film Iruvar are you using on this campaign trail?
The film documented how over three decades, the politics of the state changed. I miss Kalaignar Karunanidhi who I think was a great leader with a great vision. Then there was MGR, whose concern for the poor was something that stayed with me. You get to learn from these people and from their mistakes. If you don't know the history, you'll never understand the present, and if you don't understand the present, you'll not foresee the future.
Do you look up to any politician in this country?
There is hope in the younger generation. I want Kanhaiya Kumar to win. Whatever 'tukde tukde' people say, he is the future. I want me to win. I want Pawan Kalyan to win. We need new leaders and then we need to test the waters. There is KCR, I look up to him. Irrespective of what people say he is not BJP's B team. I know him very well and the kind of work he is doing in Telangana, I salute him.
Watch the full interview here: