'Religion must be in your home and in the temple, not in government functions.'
Dr S Senthilkumar, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham MP from Dharmapuri, was invited to inaugurate a road project in his district last week.
On arrival at the function site he spotted only a Hindu priest ready to perform a bhoomi pooja before the inauguration.
The MP pointed out that it was a government function and should not have any religious ritual. If they wanted a religious ritual, the organisers must also invite a Christian priest, a Muslim maulavi and an atheist.
Dr Senthilkumar said he was not against any religion, but asking only a priest from one religion to perform the ritual was not correct.
The Hindu priest then left the venue and the MP inaugurated the project.
"In the DMK, we give instructions that we do not want any religious rituals during government functions. I walk away and stay away till the religious rituals are over. This time I decided to speak up," Dr Senthilkumar, who has an MD in radiology and defeated former Union health minister Dr Ambumani Ramadoss in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, tells Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar.
The very phrase bhoomi pooja indicates a pooja, a Hindu ceremony. So should we stop calling such functions bhoomi pooja? How else can we call it?
Why a bhoomi pooja? This is a central government programme.
It is a government function. You can have such rituals in private functions.
How has your party leadership reacted to this incident? Have they supported you, criticised you, or ignored it as a local matter?
I have not received any feedback from the party.
I have been praised for my stand on this issue as we are a secular country.
Isn't it a fact that the DMK has shed much of its earlier anti-Hindu views? Today many of your ministers go to temples; the CM's wife even holds poojas in her home.
It is a private affair in her home.
90% of our voters are Hindus.
Periyar's atheism is not meant for our personal life.
We do not need religion in government functions. If you must have it, then all religions must be included.
The BJP paints the DMK as anti-Hindu, Don't you think they will use your action as a handle to highlight that?
The DMK has this stand right from the beginning, from (DMK founder C N) Annadurai's time to M Karunanidhi's time to the present leadership M K Stalin's time: 'There should be no display of religious symbols in any government office'.
There is a Tamil Nadu government order to this effect.
Our Hindu vote gets strengthened by our stand.
Religion must be in your home and in the temple, not in government functions.
Indians by nature are a religious people and we tend to start every function with a prayer.
As long as it is a private function, it is okay.
Most of us have studied in Christian schools; we start with a Christian prayer.
In Hindu schools we start with a Hindu prayer. But in a government function it is not necessary.
The Vajpayee government never had religious rituals in government functions.
Someone had to say it.
I did it.
I wanted a debate to start.
You must have attended many functions in the past one year. Has nothing like this happened before?
In the DMK, we give instructions that we do not want any religious rituals during government functions.
I walk away and stay away till the religious rituals are over.
This time I decided to speak up.
What does the Dravidian ideology say about religion and rituals?
Our ideology is to respect everyone, don't suppress anyone and provide equal opportunities to all.
A criticism is that the core Dravidian ideology is not anti-religion, but anti-Hindu specifically.
No! We are the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, 90% of Hindus vote for us.
Our ideology is not anti-Hindu.
We seek representation for everybody.
The next time you are invited to a government function will you tell them in advance that they should not have any religious rituals, or alternately invite all religious representatives to the function?
I have said this many times. This time also I had told them, but they did not listen.
Tamil Nadu is known as the state of temples. Is practicing Dravidian ideology difficult here?
We have a separate department to look after temples.
We would like to keep religion in your homes and in your temples, not outside.
Are you a religious person? What about your family? Do you pray/go to temples?
No! From Standard 12 I don't go to the temple.
I believe in my conscience.
My family is religious.
What does religion mean to you?
People who believe in religion are God fearing.
People need something to go to, to support them; they need a shoulder to lean on.
What burden you cannot take, you pass it onto faith.
Religion is a support system to lean on.
I believe in my conscience.
How do you divide your work as a doctor and as a MP?
I am a radiologist. The technicians do the tests. I have to analyse the results for my patients.
Most of it is tele-medicine.
You know you can treat a patient in the United States from here.
I do both my work as a doctor and as a member of Parliament with enthusiasm.
You are a MP. How do you face up to the BJP's Hindutva ideology?
That is where we challenge them.
I feel very strongly as part of the Opposition.
I am always ready for a debate.
If you look at their benches, most of them are from other parties, it is an opportunistic party.
Their Hindutva ideology is an election winning machine. We will face it.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com