The Tamil Nadu elections this time will be a multi-polar contest, with ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth’s DMDK and Vaiko’s MDMK adding colour and competition to the usual DMK versus AIADMK fare. The BJP is another X-factor in the polls. But Khushboo Sundar, national spokesperson of the Congress, tells Viju Cherian that the Congress-DMK alliance will return to power this May. Excerpts from the interview:
How is the Congress placed in Tamil Nadu and how prepared is the DMK-Congress alliance to take on the AIADMK?
Under the leadership of EVK Elangovan the party is confident and is today in a stronger position than it was in 2014. The DMK-Congress alliance will win this election under the guidance of M Karunanidhi.
Opinion polls show that the J Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK will return to power.
Opinion polls are not always accurate. We saw how such polls got it wrong in Delhi and Bihar. The people of Tamil Nadu for some time now have not elected the same party back to power and that trend will continue.
The DMK did not concede all the seats that the Congress had asked for. Is this a reflection of the Congress’ decreasing relevance in Tamil Nadu?
The Congress has got 41 seats this time and that has been the demand all the while. The initial number floated was speculation either by the media or other parties.
What will be the impact of GK Vasan’s exit from the Congress in Tamil Nadu?
With due respect to him, Vasan is yet to find place in an alliance, so nothing more needs to be said about that.
What do you think of the BJP’s chances in Tamil Nadu?
The party is still trying to find a foothold in the state and other than Narendra Modi there is no face for the party in the state. Also, the Modi wave has long gone.
Will Vijayakanth’s decision to join the PWF adversely impact your alliance?
It is unfortunate that he did not join us but it will not have any impact on our alliance’s showing.
There are many chief ministerial candidates this time. Does this mean that more people are unhappy with the two main Dravidian parties?
No it does not. Rather it shows how the AIADMK has failed and that people are fed up with her government. Anyone can claim to run for the CM’s post, but at the moment the DMK is the only option.
Not many parties condemned the intercaste ‘honour killing’ in Tirupur in March. Are caste equations a big factor in the polls?
Over the last few years in Tamil Nadu there is an increase in such abominable acts. There’s no honour in killing anyone, but some parties benefit from such tension. Rather than focusing on educating people about such evils, parties turn a blind eye to it. The Congress has issued a statement condemning the incident, but the AIADMK is yet to. The incident has happened in an area where the AIADMK has a presence and will not upset its vote bank there.
You left the DMK to join Congress. Now that both are allies, does it put you in an awkward position? Will you campaign for DMK candidates?
It was not a bitter exit and I still have good ties with many DMK leaders. I often speak to Kanimozhi, Raja and others. If my party leadership asks me to campaign for the DMK, I will.
Freebies are a big thing when it comes to elections in TN. What’s your take on it?
There are things that are necessary, and there are those that are not. Free education, especially for the girl child, is necessary aid. Any aid to the farmer is important, like providing electricity. Same is with aid to people living below the poverty line. Providing access to water to every person in Tamil Nadu is essential. Freebies like television, grinders and mixies are a waste of tax-payers money.
With rising alcoholism, the demand for prohibition is growing in Tamil Nadu. What’s your view on the issue?
Prohibition is possible in Tamil Nadu. Look at how chief minister Nitish Kumar has done it in Bihar and how neighbouring Kerala is tackling the problem. In the last five years, under the AIADMK rule, a TASMAC (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, which has a monopoly over sale of liquor in the state) outlet has come up in every street. The AIADMK has a vested interest in continuing TASMAC’s monopoly because Midas Golden Distilleries belongs to a close aid of the party leader. The AIADMK is more concerned about the profits they make rather than the social, economic and health impacts alcoholism has on the people of Tamil Nadu.
In a 2014 interview to HT on the prospect of Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister of India, you had said: ‘My only fear [if he comes to power] is that the minorities might get suppressed further’. What’s your view now?
My worst fears have come true. In the last 22 months minorities, Dalits and OBCs are living in fear. People are being lynched on suspicions of eating beef, patriotism has been reduced to a select few slogans and atrocities against Dalits have increased, the latest being the incident in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan.
In the same interview you said about Rahul Gandhi that ‘he needs to come a bit closer to reality. He gives the impression that he is still cocooned within four walls’. Do you still hold those views?
Of course Rahul Gandhi has changed from where he was then. Today he is more with the people and is giving sleepless nights to the government. The questions he raises are very pertinent and he is strengthening the party with every passing day.