Campaigning for the Tamil Nadu assembly elections on April 6 is underway. The question on everyone’s mind is: which way will the state go? Will the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)’s rising sun — the party’s election symbol — return to power after a decade? Or will the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) be back for a third straight term? India will know on May 2, when the verdict will be out. But DMK president MK Stalin believes there will be a tsunami, not just a wave, in his favour, helping his party win over 200 of the 234 assembly seats in the state. In an interview with CNN-News18, Stalin also alleges that the AIADMK government is neck deep in corruption and that the BJP, an ally of the ruling party, is trying “all kinds of plots” to thwart the DMK. Edited excerpts:
Q: After 30 years, this is a different kind of election. It’s the first poll without big leaders on both sides. Kalaignar (M Karunanidhi) is not here for the DMK. There’s no J Jayalalithaa for the AIADMK. All eyes are on you, expectations are high. Are you under pressure?
The absence of Kalaignar (Stalin’s father) is a big loss, a vacuum. We can’t forget that. But we faced the Lok Sabha elections last year without him. He taught us for over 50 years. He trained me — every inch of the way — since the day I took my first step in politics…From the age of 13, when I was in school, I have learnt step by step. This is helping me today. He taught me how to campaign, how to keep ties with allies, how to keep a coalition together, how to talk to people…I’m sure it will help me in these elections as well. I’m confident of a bigger victory. The AIADMK government is sinking into a well of corruption…
After Jayalalithaa’s death, their main aim has been to keep the government afloat…The interest of ministers and MLAs has been put ahead of the people. They have taken more commissions, indulged in more corruption and destroyed the state…
Q: But the other side is making the same allegations. They say if the DMK returns to power, there will be a corrupt government. There have been raids…
Even MGR (MG Ramachandran) made allegations of corruption against the DMK. They brought the government down and the Sarkaria Commission was set up to probe the allegations. But MGR later told the commission he hadn’t made the allegations (and that) it was someone else. Till today, nothing has been proved. Similarly, there was a major charge against A Raja on 2G (the 2G spectrum case). There was a conspiracy against Raja when he was Union minister. Kalaignar told him to resign and prove his innocence. Raja was cleared by the Supreme Court, and so was Kanimozhi. Jayalalithaa faced corruption charges when she was CM of the ADMK government. The government fell and she went to jail. This didn’t happen with the DMK. So these charges may be made during campaigning, but they are not true.
Q: There has been a war of words between you and the CM. Two days ago you called him a poisonous snake.
…The way he (chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami) fell at Sasikala’s feet for the CM’s post — it was all over the media. He was the one who said he’s not a snake or a lizard. That’s the context in which I spoke. Whether I respect Edappadi Palaniswami or not, he is the CM. I respect the CM’s post. He made derogatory remarks against the opposition, but I don’t react (to such things). I just feel it shows his class, and I move on.
Q. The opposition has alleged you are a dynastic party… Udhayanidhi (Stalin’s son) is contesting this time. How do you react to the charge of nepotism?
You cannot force anyone into politics, you have to grow into it. I was called a dynast, but I struggled and rose within the party. I have earned my posts. I did not receive them as gifts. I did not give Udhayanidhi (who is making his poll debut) an MLA post. I told him to go out, campaign and win. We accept anyone who subscribes to our beliefs. If Udhayanidhi was in any other party, he would not have been called a dynast. It’s only because he’s in the DMK.
Q: Coming to coalition politics. You have an alliance with the Congress, but you’ve given them just 25 seats. In 2019, you had said you see Rahul Gandhi as PM. Why have you given them just 25 seats now? Have they become weaker?
They are not weaker, but now there are more allies for the DMK, compared to the Lok Sabha elections. So we are sharing seats accordingly…In the Lok Sabha elections, we gave them more seats. At that time, Rahul was the PM candidate. Now, I am the CM candidate. So we decided the DMK must contest more seats. We have seen the BJP meddle in states where the government has a majority. We have seen them come to power in states where they have no majority…They are killing democracy and behaving like dictators. We don’t want that to happen in Tamil Nadu. So we have held talks with our allies…we have taken them along…None of our allies are angry…We have more allies this time. In fact, we have brought more parties together, which in itself is a victory. Winning the election is one thing, but getting this coalition together is also an achievement.
Q: Do you still want Rahul Gandhi as PM?
Definitely, that aim is always there…
Q: People call this a wave-less election…But you say the DMK will get more than 200 seats. What is the basis for your confidence?
This is not a wave; it’s a tsunami. If we win 234 seats, it will be a tsunami, not a wave. There is anger among the people against this government, especially among those in the lowest strata, the very poor. The most basic problems have not been solved — drinking water, roads, street lights, buses, schools.
These are basic issues. That’s why we launched the programme, “Stalin in your constituency”. We have said all grievances will be solved in 100 days. We will have an officer in charge for the programme. These are very basic problems, you don’t need to make a project and set aside crores of funds.
There’s no need for a new law. These should be solved by local governments. So we have decided to solve these problems first.
Q: The CM says he was not able to do much because of the pandemic. If anyone else were CM, it would have been the same.
How can he say that? He shouldn’t assume the responsibility of the CM in that case. He is blaming everything on corona. In fact, when we first raised Covid-19 in the assembly, he said coronavirus cases will never come to Tamil Nadu, and there will be no deaths. He started wearing a mask the very next day. They have looted the exchequer, buying masks and broomsticks and bleaching powder. All this loot using corona as an excuse. We told him to give Rs 5,000 to each family as they are in distress, without food and jobs. In fact, the DMK acted like the government…We distributed food, rations, vegetables, medicines — all through the party. We mobilised our district cadre through video conferencing and ensured that people got help. We set up a helpline, which even the ADMK and the BJP took advantage of. We have evidence of that, but we gave them the same benefits. Tamil Nadu was an utter failure in managing the virus. Everything they did was just for show. The DMK did what the ruling party should have done, despite being in the opposition.
Q: There are two new parties this election —one by Kamal Haasan and another by TTV Dhinakaran. There is a feeling they could split the DMK’s votes. Are you worried?
The new entrants are not criticising the party that has been ruling for the last decade. They are only taking on the DMK, which has been in the opposition for 10 years. We know they are instigated by the BJP and are trying to split votes somehow. They are worried that if we win, we will be in power for four-five terms. They want to stop us, since they know we will be unshakeable for the next 20-25 years. So the BJP is trying all kinds of plots.
Q: You think both parties are instigated by the BJP?
There is no doubt about it. In the beginning, Kamal Haasan used to criticise the BJP. Now, he only attacks the DMK. So does Seeman’s party. But people know that only the DMK can get rid of this government…
Q: Another allegation made by the BJP is that the DMK is against spirituality, against religion. People won’t be able to celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi or Vel Yatras.
That weapon is wielded whenever there is an election, but it is blunted now. It was used in 1971, and the DMK swept the polls with 184 seats, its highest ever. They’re trying to use it again this time. I have responded so many times to this…in Tiruvannamalai, I said: ‘Look at our election manifesto’. There are specific promises for religious activities, for priests, for temples. We have given a big list. The Tiruvarur chariot was drawn by Kalaignar. The maximum temple kumbhabhishekams (temple festivals) have been conducted under the DMK. Many temples were rebuilt. The issue is brought up during elections and dropped after that.
Q: What will happen on May 2? Will the rising sun shine? In the last election, you were almost there, but couldn’t cross the line. Will you cross it this time?
Q: The half-way mark, 117 seats…
All opinion polls have given the DMK 160-180 seats. As I said in the beginning, the DMK will win at least 200 seats. I have been touring Tamil Nadu for 15 days. I have seen the people’s enthusiasm, their feedback, their reception. I am confident we will more than 200 seats.