Chennai, March 21: Karti Chidambaram, 42, denies that his father, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, has skipped the elections this time fearing defeat because the Congress has been left without allies in Tamil Nadu.
The challenges before Karti, named the Congress candidate yesterday from his father’s constituency of Sivaganga, are: the lack of allies to back up his father’s vote-bank of one lakh-odd, anti-incumbency, and Jayalalithaa’s stated desire to ensure he loses his deposit.
“We should ensure that Karti Chidambaram does not even get his deposit,” the chief minister told a rally in Sivaganga today.
The AIADMK had come close to unseating Chidambaram in 2009 when its candidate, R. Kannappan, lost by just 3,354 votes. Jayalalithaa had alleged that then chief minister and Congress ally M. Karunanidhi had got the returning officer to declare the result before counting had ended.
One of Karti’s advantages is that the voters know him as well as they do his father, who has been winning from Sivaganga since 1984, barring 1999.
“He has managed the constituency and his father’s election campaign since 2004 and has kept close tabs on all the development work carried out there,” an aide said.
“He has trekked across Sivaganga as much as Chidambaram and knows most party workers by name.”
Excerpts from an interview with Karti:
Q: PC has been Sivaganga MP for a long time. Will his record hurt or benefit you?
A: Definitely his record will benefit me. In spite of holding a high portfolio, he has made it a point to visit the constituency numerous times. In this five-year term, he has visited it 95 times, which is quite admirable for someone holding a heavy-duty portfolio.
Also, all the central government schemes are meticulously implemented in Sivaganga. The MPLAD (MPs’ local area development fund) has been spent very judiciously.
Because of his personal brand equity, a lot of CSR (corporate social responsibility) activity has also come to Sivaganga.
He has opened over 75 banks, and if you contrast this with the AIADMK, they have only opened Tasmac (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation) liquor shops.
(Today, Jayalalithaa said: “Chidambaram thinks opening bank branches is a big achievement. When people do not have money to put in their bank accounts, what use are so many banks? Chidambaram is one of the main reasons behind the collapse of India’s economy.”)
And 19,000 educational loans have been given. Bhel has put up a secondary plant. Private hospitals have come. Through CSR, over 300 village tanks have been deepened, which has befitted the local community.
At the grass-root level, my father’s contribution to Sivaganga has been significant. I will be contesting on the (strength of the) track record of his performance.
Q: Then why did he shy away from contesting this time?
A: My father has been contesting elections from 1977. He has contested nine elections and, barring 1977 (when he fought in the Assembly elections) and 1999, has won seven elections to Parliament. He has proved himself in the electoral battlefield. So, he is taking a break from electoral politics. Not from politics or public life.
Q: Whenever he has won, the Congress or the TMC (Tamil Maanila Congress, which Chidambaram had briefly joined) had been in alliance with either the DMK or the AIADMK. When he contested without any allies in 1999, he lost. Did he choose not to contest this time because the Congress has no allies now?
A: If that argument holds good, he should have shied away in 1999. He did not shy away then. Even in 1977 he contested without an alliance. He has been in electoral politics for 30 years and wants to take a break. That is (what lies behind) the timing of the decision and it has nothing to do with electoral arithmetic.
Q: In spite of the Congress having an alliance then, he won very narrowly in 2009. Is that not anti-incumbency?
A: Not at all. The Left parties’ votes had gone to the AIADMK; there was a caste consolidation behind the AIADMK candidate; and Vijayakanth did not poll enough votes to hurt the AIADMK as he had done elsewhere in the state. We got the votes that we normally got in the previous elections.
Q: There has been a ring of defeatism to your father’s recent speeches. He called the Congress an underdog in this election; he wanted the DMK to declare it would not support a Modi-led government; and he said that people would realise the importance of the Congress only when it was not in power. Has he already thrown in the towel?
A: By saying the Congress is an underdog, my father is also accepting the electoral arithmetic. Also, he wants expectations to be temperedů and (party) people will work hard realising the political reality of the alliances.
And underdogs win --- like the Indian cricket team did in the 1983 World Cup. As far as asking the DMK if they would align with a Narendra Modi-led government, it is a legitimate political question that should also be posed to the AIADMK. Since both are individually not in a position to form a government, they should be asked who they propose to support.
Q: Do you and your father believe that the UPA can win at all?
A: We are confident that the UPA is capable of coming to power for a third term.
Q: If the UPA forms a government, your father could still be a minister --- and for that, will he be taking the Rajya Sabha route?
A: I cannot answer all this as it will be up to the UPA leadership after we form a government. I am only a rookie candidate.
Q: How do you fancy your own chances in Sivaganga without an alliance?
A: We would be running on the track record. I plan to put up a very spirited campaign and by contrasting the merits and demerits of the candidates, the strengths of the political parties, and who would be an effective advocate for the people of Sivaganga at Delhi, I fancy my chances very well. It is a six-cornered contest and there is a certain brand equity I bring to the election.
Q: Your father won 1.25 lakh votes in 1999 and still lost. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam (a former Union minister) once said that celebrity candidates command around one lakh votes on their own in a Lok Sabha seat and the rest of the winning votes have to come from other parties. Will that captive vote bank of your father suffice?
A: The vote is the party’s vote. It is not anybody’s personal property. The Congress party has a certain number of votes throughout Tamil Nadu, perhaps more in Sivaganga than anywhere else.
Q: Lots of youngsters have been fielded in Tamil Nadu. Will that help your party, since the Congress vote bank has shrunk enormously?
A: I don’t know. Lots of new voters have come in. Only when we go out into the field we will know. Only when you contest on your own, your vote bank can be assessed. And this is an opportunity for us to do that. I am confident about the prospects of the Congress in Tamil Nadu.
Q: What about the Modi wave?
A: There is no Modi wave in Tamil Nadu.
Q: H. Raja of the BJP is going to challenge you in Sivaganga. He is bound to say that Chidambaram ran away only because of Modi. How do you plan to counter that?
A: There is a Karti Chidambaram. So where is the question of Chidambaram running away? I am also a Chidambaram.
Q: Will the various scams (during UPA II rule) rub off on you?
A: There can be any number of allegations. If that were so, we can also bring up the corruption case going on against Jayalalithaa.
Q: Will all this not help the BJP?
A: The BJP front has only an alphabet soup in Tamil Nadu. Look at the names of the various parties in its front and you will know. When Vijayakanth had his alliance with the AIADMK (for the Assembly elections), he went in as Captain Vijayakanth but came out as Sepoy Vijayakanth. This time he has an alliance with the BJP. He will be reduced to a khaki shorts-wearing chowkidar.
Q: So who will be your main opponent in Sivaganga?
A: It will be the ruling AIADMK. The contest is between us and the AIADMK.