National

A Babu, A Neta: Sasikanth Senthil's Battle Against BJP Ideology

He left the IAS to fight the BJP’s ideology and won by a record margin

Illustration: Vikas Thakur
Photo: Illustration: Vikas Thakur
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Once a seasoned IAS officer in Karnataka, Sasikanth Senthil was disillusioned with the Union government in 2019—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had just been re-elected for its second term—over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), which had just been passed in Parliament. Known for his no-nonsense attitude even within the service, he felt it necessary to quit amid the “framework of fascism” developing in the country and lack of “space for a rational debate”.

“I now have the moral and ethical responsibility to raise my voice against what is happening in the country. I could not do so while in service,” he said while resigning.

He participated in several protests against the abrogation of Article 370 and was also “able to contribute to the anti-CAA movement, which proved to me that the people of this country are ready to stand for one another”, he said in a statement on X.

At that time, Senthil had said he did not wish to join politics since he belonged to the academic community. But he subsequently joined the Congress party in 2020 after the Delhi riots to “continue the fight”. “I have been an activist trying to be a voice for the less privileged all through my life, and would continue to do the same until my last breath,” he said.

Almost four years later, he won from the Tiruvallur constituency in Tamil Nadu with the highest margin of 5.72 lakh votes in the state. He chose to make his electoral debut from Tiruvallur, his mother’s hometown, and was up against the BJP, which was aggressively attempting to make inroads into the region, led by K Annamalai. A contest of contrasts, as many analysts had termed, saw the triumph of Senthil, who was rather soft-spoken but raised his voice against what he believed was wrong. His speeches, directly calling out the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), blaming it for communal politics, and criticising the BJP and its policies, are widely popular on social media.

Over the last few years, Senthil has worked behind the scenes to rebuild the Congress in Tamil Nadu and craft poll strategies for the party in Karnataka and Rajasthan. In Karnataka, he helped formulate the party’s five poll guarantees and led the “40 per cent commission” campaign targeting the then BJP-led government and Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai by posting attention-grabbing posters for the state assembly elections last year—both of which are hugely credited for the grand old party’s win in the state. “This is not an election… this is an ideological war,” Senthil said at one of his campaign stops. His ideology trumped the BJP in the Dravidian citadel.

(This appeared in the print as 'A Babu, A Neta')

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