For more than five decades Tamil Nadu has seen a unique blend of film and politics govern the state. But, come May 16, if Anbumani Ramadoss, the chief ministerial candidate of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), has his way Tamil Nadu will get its first non-AIADMK non-DMK chief minister in 50 years.
There are a lot of things going in favour of Ramadoss: Among the CM candidates in the fray he is the youngest by at least 15 years, tech-savvy and is a professional who is not from Kollywood (the Tamil film industry). There are drawbacks as well: Many still see the PMK as a casteist party and for too long it has been in the shadow of the two main Dravidian parties—AIADMK and DMK.
But these are factors that Ramadoss is confident his party and he can overcome.
After a four-hour party meeting followed by a two-hour photo session with more than 200 PMK candidates when Ramadoss sits for an interview with Hindustan Times there is a clarity in his vision and an enthusiasm in his voice that cannot be missed.
Excerpts of his interview to Viju Cherian.
What are the main problems Tamil Nadu is facing today and how do you plan to tackle it?
Alcohol and corruption. Tamil Nadu sees the highest sale of alcohol, the highest road traffic accidents, highest suicides, young widows and liver diseases in India —all because of alcohol. Tamil Nadu is seeing alcohol enforcement, not alcohol sale. As for corruption, BJP president Amit Shah recently said that Tamil Nadu is the most corrupt state in India — we’ve been saying this for the past five years.
Do you have a plan on how to bring prohibition?
When prohibition kicks in 90% of those drinking will stop. For the remaining the government will provide medical attention. We will set up a toll-free number to check the sale or storage of illicit alcohol. Informers will be rewarded. Special courts will be set up to fast track these cases and the maximum punishment will be life imprisonment.
How conducive is the political environment in Tamil Nadu for PMK?
In the last five years PMK was the true Opposition in the assembly. Even though DMDK’s Vijayakanth was the Leader of Opposition, he went to the Assembly only once. The women in Tamil Nadu want the PMK to come to power because they fell that only we can bring prohibition—we’ve been fighting for it for the past 26 years. Today if other parties are speaking about prohibition it is because of the pressure PMK has put on them.
What is your view on the parties other than the AIADMK and DMK?
The BJP is a minuscule party in Tamil Nadu. The PWF is an alliance of small parties that have been sidelined by other parties. They do not have ideas or ideologies. On their own they will not even win a single MLA.
Why did the PMK choose to go it alone this time?
In the past when we were contesting alone we were winning more seats. But then for 13 years we formed alliances and lost our credibility. We did a huge mistake for which I apologised to the people of Tamil Nadu. Five years back we took a decision that we will not form an alliance with either the AIADMK or DMK.
There are four CM candidates this time. What’s the edge you have over the others?
I have respect for the other three but the fact is they cannot take care of their everyday needs themselves. For five years we had a CM who could not step out of her house (as much as she should have because of health reasons), we have a 93-year-old leader (M Karunanidhi) whose own party leaders are asking him to retire. The third person (Vijayakanth) is incoherent, neither he nor the people who listen to him speak understand what he is saying. I, on the other hand, am a professionally qualified doctor and I’ve proved my credentials while I was a central minister. For the 2.5 crore young neutral voters I will be a better option than the other three.
Tell us a bit about your manifesto?
From the beginning our stand has been that we will not give freebies — no TVs, mixies, grinders, goats, mangalsurtas, dhotis... Now the other parties are following us. Tamil Nadu, over the years, has become synonymous with a freebie culture. The PMK will only give free services — free education and health care.
In your manifesto you’ve said that you would conduct a caste-based census. What the rationale behind it?
Caste-based census is even done by the Centre. We want to do it because we want to give reservation to all the communities in Tamil Nadu.
How important is the Sri Lankan Tamil issue this election?
The Sri Lankan issue is not an election issue but an emotional issue, and through my NGO we have been highlighting this at the UN for years. But people do not vote depending on this, because the DMK-Congress combine was voted to power in 2009 when the war in Sri Lanka was at its peak. The fishermen issue is a more prominent one.
The PMK is often accused of being a caste-based Vanniyar party. Your views on this?
The PMK is not a caste-based party. We are a party for social justice. The PMK general secretary is a Dalit, treasurer is a Muslim and our candidates come from all sections of society. As long as we are with the two main Dravidian parties we were a normal party, the day we broke alliance with them we become a caste-based party.