Aravakurichi (TN): Stoking a controversy, actor and Makkal Needhi Maiyam founder Kamal Haasan has said free India's first "extremist was a Hindu" -- Nathuram Godse who killed Mahatma Gandhi.
Haasan's comments drew sharp reaction from the state BJP, which slammed him for indulging in "divisive politics".
It also approached the Election Commission of India, seeking action against Haasan for "gross violation" of the Model Code of Conduct.
However, the Congress and Dravidar Kazhagam, a rationalist organisation floated by Dravidian veteran, the late E V R Periyar, came out in support of the MNM leader.
Addressing an election campaign here Sunday night, Haasan said he was one of those "proud Indians" who desires an India of equality and where the "three colours" in the tricolour, an obvious reference to different faiths, "remained intact." "I am not saying this because this is a Muslim dominated area, but I am saying this before a statue of Gandhi. Free India's first extremist was a Hindu, his name is Nathuram Godse. There it (extremism, apparently) starts," he said.
Haasan said he was a "self-assumed great-grandson" of Gandhi and that he had come here "seeking answers for that murder," referring to Gandhi's assassination in 1948.
"Good Indians desire for equality and want the three colours in the tricolour to remain intact. I am a good Indian, will proudly proclaim that," he added.
BJP state President Tamilisai Soundararajan said the whole nation was shocked when Gandhi was killed and none can justify it, and that Godse was hanged for the "heinous" crime.
She said it was "strongly condemnable" that Haasan used the phrase "Hindu extremism" in a Muslim-dominated area.
"Though he talks of taking forward a new kind of politics, he also indulged in the old,mischievous,poisonous and divisive vote bank politics," Soundararajan said in a statement.
She said his remarks amounted to inciting "communal violence".
In an apparent reference to the deadly Easter bombings in Sri Lanka which left over 250 dead, she asked whether persons like Haasan were vocal in discussing the issue "despite being known that the perpetrators were Muslims."
Soundararajan said Haasan's remarks in a Muslim dominated area were "mischievous and agenda-driven." "Therefore such persons" campaigning should be banned.
Police should take action since there is an effort to create tension," she said.
Taking a swipe at his earlier statement of threatening to leave the country when his multi-million venture 'Vishwaroopam' faced release time issues from Muslim groups over portrayal of the community, the state BJP chief said "It is brazen acting that he is now talking about the country, Gandhi and patriotism."
The party also filed a complaint with the EC against Haasan for his remarks, saying they were made at a village in Aravakurichi, which was a "thickly-populated" Muslim area.
"The intention of Kamal Haasan is to create religious unrest in society and create communal tension in the Constituency and all over the state."
"This is gross violation of the code of conduct prescribed by the Election Commission," the BJP legal cell said in its complaint with state Chief Electoral Officer Satybarata Sahoo.
It demanded "stringent action" against Haasan.
Actor Vivek Oberoi slammed Haasan's remarks, saying both art and terror "have no religion" and asked if Godse's faith was mentioned to corner Muslim votes.
Oberoi, who played Narendra Modi in a biopic on the Prime Minister, said no one "should divide the country."
"Dear Kamal sir, you are a great artist. Just like art has no religion, terror has no religion either! You can say Godse was a terrorist, why would you specify Hindu ? Is it because you were in a Muslim dominated area looking for votes?," he asked in a tweet.
"Please sir, from a much smaller artist to a great one, lets not divide this country, we are one Jai Hind..#AkhandBharat #UnDividedIndia," he added.
Haasan, however, found support from the Congress and DK, whose leaders said they found nothing wrong with the actor-politician's remarks.
TNCC President K S Alagiri said he concurred with Haasan "1000 percent", while DK chief K Veeramani said Godse trained with RSS.
Responding to reporters' queries on the matter, Alagiri alleged that Hindu outfits like RSS "believe in destroying those with opposing views" and equated the saffron organisation with ISIS, saying the Islamic organisation does not tolerate contrarian views even from fellow Muslims.
Backing Haasan for his "Godse is the first extremist in free India" comments, Alagiri said, "I support him and concur with him, not just 100 percent, but 1000 percent." Veeramani, a strident critic of the BJP and Sangh Parivar, said "Not just that, even (Sadhvi) Pragya Singh Thakur is only out on bail," referring to BJP's Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case.
He also supported Haasan for his statement on Godse.
Earlier too, Haasan had triggered a row, when in November 2017, he took potshots at what he termed as "Hindu extremism", which drew condemnation from the BJP and Hindu outfits.
Aravakurichi is one of the four Assembly constituencies where bypolls are scheduled on May 19. MNM has fielded S Mohanraj from this segment.