At 80, Muthuvel Karunanidhi sets a scorching pace in his Tempo Traveller, drawing large crowds despite the searing southern summer.
The veteran Dravidian leader is now leading a combine strikingly different from the one he headed during the last general elections. Distancing himself from the NDA, the DMK leader has allied with the Congress, the CPM, the CPM, the MDMK, the PMK and the Indian Union Muslim League. The 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and one seat in Pondicherry go to polls on May 10. On the campaign trail, Karunanidhi spoke to The Telegraph. Excerpts:
Q: Do you see Elections 2004 as a tussle between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi or as a battle between communal and secular forces'
A: Whether it is a battle or a democratic struggle, it is only natural that there are two sides fighting it out there. And the generalissimo of each side being identified is not new in history either. Accordingly, in the present battle between the communal and the secular forces, Sonia Gandhi is heading the alliance of secular parties. That does not mean you should take it as a personal tussle between Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi. The poll battle is actually a conflict between two differing political ideologies and approaches.
Q: The BJP has again raised Bofors. Does this mean that Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin issue has come a cropper'
A: The Bofors payoffs issue has already been quashed by the courts. After the court verdict (Delhi High Court absolving Rajiv Gandhi of all charges), even leaders like V.P. Singh, who had first let the issue stalk the political theatre (in the 1989 polls), have given it up.
Q: The NDA manifesto has for the first time included the Ram temple controversy…
A: Usually, when someone contests in a panchayat election, the local villagers would tauntingly ask the candidates whether they would build a temple for goddess Kali or for Ganesh if they win. Some successful candidates in those elections also oblige their electorate by taking up such constructions. This happens at the level of the village panchayat.
But now, in the run-up to even the highest parliamentary election, both the Prime Minister, Vajpayee, and the deputy Prime Minister, .K. Advani, are vying with each other in giving an assurance that a temple for Lord Ram will be built and a situation has arisen wherein it finds a place in the NDA’s manifesto as well.
But a majority of the Indian people resent the Ayodhya issue’s inclusion as it would only lead to a needless and utterly painful conflict.
Q: Why have you declared in advance that the DMK will not be part of a Congress-led government if it is voted to power'
A: The DMK is always a fighting party. Our approach has always been to fight for issues in Parliament to fulfil people’s needs and aspirations. I personally do not favour the DMK being a part of the government until it is placed in a really strong position to get the people’s demands fulfilled. But my viewpoint will be debated at the party’s top-level forums and then a decision will be taken.
Q: Jayalalithaa has dubbed your alliance in the state “opportunistic”.
A: In 1999, it was Jayalalithaa who, after having toppled the Vajpayee government for its refusal to accept her demand to dismiss the then DMK government, had urged Sonia Gandhi to become Prime Minister and even went as far as driving down to the Congress president’s residence in Delhi.
Further, do you know the kind of stuff Jayalalithaa had written in May 1999 in a letter she addressed to her party cadre and published in the Tamil daily, Dinamani' In it, she said that “to cling to power, the BJP is ready to align with anyone, commit any sin. I have shocking details on the BJP’s and its leadership’s links with anti-national forces and foreign arms manufacturers. I shall disclose them to the people when the time comes.” It is the very same Jayalalithaa who now goes around pleading for making A.B. Vajpayee Prime Minister again. You should by now discern where the contradiction lies.
Q: The Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) review committee recently found no prima facie case against MDMK leader Vaiko and eight other party functionaries who had been jailed under the law.
A: The Prevention of Terrorism Act is a dreadful law. The assurances given by the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister that Pota will not be misused by state governments have vanished into thin air. The latest ruling in this Pota case (concerning Vaiko) and the review panel’s recommendations are certainly a victory of sorts for us.