EXCLUSIVE | BJP still not able to understand the political climate of Tamil Nadu: MK Stalin

In an exclusive interview with TNIE, CM MK Stalin dismisses PM Modi’s Katchatheevu charges as ‘crocodile tears’ and explains why the saffron party is the DMK’s ideological enemy.
MK Stalin.
MK Stalin.Express Photo

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin said the DMK’s main competitor in the electoral arena for the Lok Sabha polls is the AIADMK, but the BJP is the ideological foe of the DMK-led INDIA bloc.

“BJP is not just DMK’s enemy, it’s the enemy of the people as a whole,” the CM said.

In an exclusive interview to The New Indian Express, the DMK president said while the BJP, by using its power as the ruling party at the centre and through media propaganda, is trying to create an image that it is gaining ground in Tamil Nadu, the people’s verdict will show its real standing in the state. Terming the Lok Sabha polls as a second freedom struggle that is being fought to save democracy, Stalin said the election is about deciding who should not continue as the Prime Minister. Read the full interview:

You were the first leader of a major party to hit the campaign trail (in Tamil Nadu). You have already covered a good number of constituencies. What is the people's mood like?

There is rousing support among the people. They have great trust in the DMK and INDIA bloc. Besides attending public meetings, I have made it a part of my routine to meet the people during my morning walks. I am seeing a lot of excitement when I speak to them. They share how they have directly benefited from the DMK government’s schemes in the last three years. They also say that no scheme for Tamil Nadu’s development has happened in BJP’s 10 years of rule. The electoral field shows that people are geared up to change the union government.

You are one of the faces of the INDIA bloc, fighting a battle against the BJP. How is this going to help DMK’s performance in Tamil Nadu?

India is a country in which people of different races, languages, religions, traditions and cultures live. Unity in diversity is the foundation of India's success so far. BJP is trying to destroy this. For its political gain, BJP is trying to disturb the country's peace.

The soil of Tamil Nadu, in particular, is one of communal harmony. Here, the mood is always against the BJP, which intends to gain by fueling communal politics. The INDIA bloc has embarked on efforts to take this message across the country and make India a land for politics of communal harmony instead. DMK is contributing to that. As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, although the BJP is adopting different strategies to show its presence, people are not ready to accept it. There are bright chances for the complete victory of the DMK-led INDIA bloc in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

MK Stalin.
TN CM Stalin: AIADMK rival, BJP our ideological foe

Despite the Tamil Nadu government’s assertion about various welfare measures being implemented in the last three years, there is a perception articulated by the opposition parties of a strong anti-incumbency mood against the DMK government, which they say, will be reflected in this election. What is your take on this?

The opposition parties are not able to fault the DMK government because we have ensured that all schemes have reached the beneficiaries appropriately. We have increased the number of beneficiaries in every welfare scheme. 

We have implemented new schemes, which were not part of our electoral promises. We have fulfilled most of our electoral promises. We will fulfil the rest once the financial situation normalises.

If there is a delay in fulfilling a few electoral promises, the administrative irregularities of the previous AIADMK government and the union BJP government's betrayal of people by not releasing due share of funds to Tamil Nadu are to blame. The BJP and AIADMK, which are in a secret illicit alliance, talking about anti-incumbency against the DMK government is akin to one spitting against the wind.  

Many parties in the past have attempted, in vain, to emerge as an alternative to the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. The BJP is now claiming itself as the alternative, especially under its present state president K Annamalai. How do you see the BJP’s growth and Annamalai’s leadership? As a senior politician, do you have any advice for Annamalai?

The BJP is still not able to understand the political climate of Tamil Nadu. It is trying to build an image by virtue of being in power in the union government and through their strength in media propaganda. I need not give them any personal advice. The people of Tamil Nadu will record their advice to the BJP on April 19 (polling day).

Dynastic politics and corruption seem to be the major charges on which the BJP is trying to attack the DMK. Do you think this will resonate with the public?

To the criticism that the DMK is a “family party,” I say yes it is a family party. I repeatedly mention that this is a party that governs by treating the people of Tamil Nadu as one family. It is a party that does good to all families. In a democracy, one has to gain people's support and win elections. A person cannot reach high office without facing elections just because they are a family member. It is the people who have elected them from DMK.

Moreover, in the current Lok Sabha election, BJP leaders are criticising us by conveniently forgetting that their party’s candidates list includes the wards of many of its functionaries.

Also, the BJP criticising someone on corruption is laughable. The people of Karnataka threw out the BJP government only because of rampant commission to the extent of 40%. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report has exposed the BJP's Rs 7.5 lakh crore scam. But so far, 'Mouna Guru' Modi has not said anything about that.

Thalaivar Kalaignar (former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi) was not the one who lost his post (as CM) after being convicted in a corruption case. It was (late AIADMK supremo) Jayalalithaa, who is now being praised by Modi, who lost power twice after being convicted in corruption cases.

She was awarded four years’ imprisonment and went to prison when she was CM. This is what Modi should talk about.  

MK Stalin.
'PM Modi speaks as if he is in opposition; Congress the ruling party,' alleges CM Stalin

You have accused the AIADMK of having a clandestine relationship with the BJP. They have, in turn, accused you of the same. BJP, meanwhile, is saying that the fight is between them and DMK. Who do you think the real fight is between in Tamil Nadu?

It is not new information that the AIADMK supported many anti-people, anti-minorities measures of the BJP government, including the three farm laws and the Citizenship Amendment Act. To safeguard his position, (AIADMK general secretary) Edappadi K Palaniswami aided in all the betrayals of the BJP government. Now the AIADMK and BJP are facing the Lok Sabha elections as two fronts just because they understood that they would see a complete rout if they contested together in an alliance. Moreover, there is an understanding between the two that they can come together after seeing the results. Both are anti-people alliances. This being the situation, it is the AIADMK that is in competition with the DMK on the electoral field. However, BJP remains the ideological enemy not only of the DMK-led alliance, but of the public at large.   

MK Stalin.
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The AIADMK and the BJP have been charging that the law and order has been deteriorating in the state. They have pointed out, in particular, the recent arrest of a DMK functionary for being the alleged mastermind of a drug trafficking network. While the DMK immediately expelled him, do you think it is a systemic failure of the party to allow such an individual to gain prominence within the party in a short period of time?

I have, in a public meeting, listed the rowdies and criminals in the BJP. It is quite natural that all types of people join a political party. However, the party’s principles and objectives are reflected in the action it takes when information about such people is brought to light. As you mentioned, DMK expelled the person, who was involved in drug trafficking, the moment we came to know about it. How many history-sheeters in its fold have been expelled by the BJP, which continues to criticise us on this? It is the BJP that remains a safe haven for criminals. Tamil Nadu, meanwhile, remains a haven of peace. AIADMK knows that there are no law and order issues. There are no atrocities now like the Thoothukudi firing that happened during the AIADMK government. 

BJP is raking up the Katchatheevu issue in a big way with leaders right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah commenting on it. You had earlier questioned the alleged irrationality of the BJP in blaming a state government for ceding an island to another country since it has no powers to do so. However, their allegation is that the DMK did not oppose the move in 1974 and later never made a serious effort to retrieve the island even when it shared power at the centre. How do you respond to that? Also, realistically, do you think the retrieval of the island alone will solve the problems faced by Tamil Nadu fishermen with respect to Sri Lanka?

The Modi-led BJP government, which has done absolutely nothing for Tamil Nadu’s fishermen in the last 10 years and which has, in fact, supported the hundreds of attacks on fishermen, their imprisonment and the seizure of their boats, has now raked up the Katchatheevu issue to hide its shortcomings. It is enough for the Prime Minister and his party members to look at the parliamentary proceedings to know that the DMK’s stance had been to not offer Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. Similarly, a look at the resolutions passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly under Kalaignar and the debates on them will show what we stood for. Back then, there was no BJP. Neither were they aware of the politics of this soil. They are attempting to spread lies on the Katchatheevu issue in order to hide their betrayal of Tamil Nadu fishermen. This will not work. DMK safeguarded the fishing rights of Tamil Nadu around Katchatheevu even during the Indira Gandhi regime. We lost those rights when DMK was not in power during the Emergency. The DMK has continuously called for the reclamation of Katchatheevu in order to protect the lives of fishermen. When I personally urged Modi to act on the issue, he refused to do so and now he sheds crocodile tears.

MK Stalin.
India will become violence-prone if BJP wins: MK Stalin

The release of electoral bonds data has revealed that the DMK received a significant amount of funds through the bonds, especially from lottery baron Santiago Martin, who is facing several cases. Is there a contradiction in DMK criticising the BJP on the electoral bonds issue while at the same time benefiting from the scheme?

The funds received by the DMK are all accounted for and (the accounts) were released by the party treasurer himself. Unlike the BJP, we neither obtained funds from companies raided by the Enforcement Directorate, CBI or Income Tax department, nor did we offer perks like contracts in return to any company. Some organisations that have funded several political parties have also given funds to the DMK. The accounts on these funds are duly audited and released to the public. There is no hypocrisy on the part of the DMK, unlike the BJP.

A few parties representing the Muslim community have voiced their concern that the DMK-led alliance could have provided better representation in seat sharing. Besides the lone seat allotted to IUML, there are no Muslim candidates from the alliance even though they account for around 6% of the state population. In contrast, smaller parties like KMDK, representing a particular community, seem to get a seat with relative ease. How do you respond to that?

The alliance led by the DMK is an ideological alliance. Following a democratic seat-sharing process, candidates are working on the field and their victories are being ensured by the people. The DMK is a movement for everyone, including minorities. The seat sharing is done based on available opportunities. Our alliance partners also cooperate knowing this. The aim of our alliance is to ensure complete victory.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has said that his state would not give a drop of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu since they need it for drinking water purposes. DMK has come under criticism for not doing enough despite being in alliance with the Congress. AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami has often charged that the AIADMK’s 38 MPs (2014-19) did a better job in raising the Cauvery issue in Parliament than what the DMK MPs had done in the last five years. How do you respond to this?

It was due to Kalaignar Karunanidhi's efforts that the then Prime Minister VP Singh set up the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal. It was also under Kalaignar's rule that we secured the tribunal’s interim and final award. In the intervening years, irrespective of which party governed Karnataka, we have been largely successful in getting our due share of water due to Kalaignar's cooperative efforts. In the name of Cauvery, the stir by AIADMK MPs in the Parliament (in 2018) was, in fact, to keep the no-confidence motion against Modi from being taken up for discussion. Their actions ended up favouring the BJP. All of DMK's efforts have been constructive and yielded results. We will continue to uphold the state's rights through legal avenues and other efforts.

DMK has opposed the post of governor for a long time. The present government’s run-ins with the governor are well-known. You, in fact, said that you started this election campaign from Raj Bhavan. You have made the electoral promise that the appointment of governors will be done in consultation with the state government. Do you think it is feasible? The DMK could not do it when it shared power at the centre in the past.

Whenever the DMK has shared power at the union government, it has taken constructive measures to ensure state rights and improve union-state relations. It is the DMK's firm stance that the post of governor is unnecessary. As there is no immediate possibility to do away with the post, the DMK has called for governors to be appointed in consultation with the state government in the election manifesto, in line with the recommendations already made by various commissions. Conflict between governors and elected governments is not new but the BJP is actively trying to run a parallel government through governors in opposition-ruled states, while sidelining the elected state governments, which is unconstitutional. That is why this issue has now garnered more importance. With the INDIA bloc at the centre, these undemocratic actions will be ended.

What impact do you think the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (AAP is a part of the INDIA bloc) will have on the election?

The use of the union government’s autonomous investigative agencies to attack the opposition parties is well-known to everyone, to the extent that people are calling the Enforcement Directorate as “Modi's ED”. Cases, arrests and raids against those belonging to parties that oppose the BJP, projecting the same persons as “clean” leaders if they shift to the BJP and accommodating them in cabinets are all happening blatantly.

The manner and timing of the arrests of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren shows the BJP’s fear of electoral defeat. The electoral bonds issue and CAG reports on irregularities (by the union government) worth `7.5 lakh crore have exposed that it is the BJP that has legalised corruption while claiming to take action against corrupt politicians but instead targeting only those leaders who oppose the BJP. 

The INDIA bloc is entering this election without a PM candidate? You had proposed Rahul Gandhi’s name for the post in the past. From your interactions with the parties in the alliance, who are the main contenders for the post if the alliance wins?

The 2024 Lok Sabha election is about who should not continue as the PM of the country rather than deciding who should be the PM. This is a struggle to reclaim democracy, the second freedom struggle. In that sense, the INDIA bloc is the face of India’s Prime Minister.   

Opposition parties have expressed concerns over the functioning of the Election Commission of India, accusing it of favouring the ruling BJP. How do you weigh the functioning of ECI as far as the current Lok Sabha elections are concerned?

The Election Commission of India, which is in charge of conducting the Lok Sabha election that is considered the symbol of India’s democracy, should act in such a manner that there is no room for criticism. The stepping down of one election commissioner days ahead of the Lok Sabha poll notification, and the subsequent appointment of two more election commissioners led to criticism. The partisan approach displayed in the notification of the election schedule, allocation of symbols for political parties does not augur well for democracy. Even now, we are facing the elections by reposing trust in the ECI. I hope the commission will live up to the trust.

Though the financial position of the state is not sound, the DMK government has been implementing many social security schemes. Can you explain how the benefits of these schemes will outweigh the costs and the risks in incurring more debt?

Each scheme has been implemented with the state's financial position in mind. As you've mentioned, since these are social security schemes, they improve the quality of life of the people. These are not merely expenditures. We look at it as investments in the state's overall growth.

A few schemes implemented by the Tamil Nadu government have been replicated by other states. What other schemes do you think have the potential of being replicated elsewhere for the benefit of the wider public?

It is heartening to see schemes of the present government like the Chief Minister's Breakfast Scheme and Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thittam being replicated by other states just like many pioneering legislations brought by Kalaignar, including the formation of the Slum Clearance Board, were replicated. A time will come when other schemes like Naan Mudhalvan for students and Pudhumai Penn scheme for girl students, and Makkalai Thedi Maruthuvam are replicated at the national level and in other states. 

There is a charge that the Dravidian movement has immensely benefited intermediate castes, but a lot more needs to be done when it comes to Dalits and Tribals. There is a perception that caste identities are sharpening in Tamil Nadu and caste discrimination and atrocities are on the rise. Do you agree with this contention? How is the Dravidian party addressing this issue?

Ever since the inception of the Dravidian movement, similar criticism has been raised but has fallen flat. This 100-year-movement is a movement to reclaim the rights of all those who were oppressed. Kalaignar ensured 18% reservation for Scheduled Castes and a separate 1% reservation for the Scheduled Tribes. In addition, Kalaignar came up with a 3% internal reservation for the Arunthathiyars, paving the way for their progress. When some parties centre their politics around caste, problems may arise. Our Dravidian Model government is resolute in our belief that these problems should not affect the harmony of Tamil Nadu. It is possible to list separately the innumerous schemes rolled out for the benefit of the Scheduled Castes in the last three years.

DMK has now been at the forefront of ideologically opposing the BJP. You have been voicing for opposition unity for a long and played a key role in bringing together the INDIA bloc parties. However, if we look back, DMK played an important role in the country seeing the first stable BJP-led government in 1999 and the party’s victory in four Lok Sabha seats in TN, their highest to date. There is a perception that the DMK should have reacted more strongly against the 2002 Godhra riots. Would it be a fair assessment to say that the DMK prioritised short-term political gains and overlooked the BJP’s ideological moorings which you are now strongly critical of?

The DMK has always firmly opposed the communal politics of the BJP. The DMK was part of the NDA led by Vajpayee (former PM) only to have a stable government in the country. The DMK-led alliance (in Tamil Nadu) faced the elections and won. Not only the BJP, but parties like PMK, and MDMK also won in that election. Even as part of the NDA government, the DMK acted as per a Common Minimum Programme (CMP). Kalaignar was the primary leader among those who put a bridle to the alliance through the CMP and avoided any room for BJP’s communal agenda.

The growth of states was the primary objective of that government. At the same time, DMK is the organisation that firmly raised its voice in the Parliament about communal riots in the BJP-ruled states and those created by the Sangh Parivar. Kalaignar strongly opposed the Ayodhya yatra of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which was responsible for the Godhra riots you mentioned. Besides, DMK was firm in its view that there should be no religious activities in Ayodhya ahead of the court's verdict. In contrast, the only leader who supported the Modi government's functioning in Gujarat at that time when the riots were happening was Jayalalithaa. DMK strongly opposed it. History shows that apart from opposing all anti-democratic measures of the Vajpayee government like the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the DMK eventually withdrew its support to the government.

Your government has introduced some well-received schemes to benefit women. However, when it comes to representation, the party seems to be lacking. Only three women have been nominated as LS candidates. Out of 34 ministers in your government, only two are women. What steps are you taking – as CM and party president -- to improve the representation of women in leadership positions in the DMK and the government? What barriers do you think contribute to this poor representation at present?

Ever since the time of its inception by Aringar Anna (former CM CN Annadurai), the DMK has pondered over and acted on its contribution to women. Magalir Mandrams (women's fora) were started even then and a women's conference was held. During the time of Kalaignar, the women's wing was strengthened and a rule was made that one woman deputy secretary was a must at the DMK headquarters’ posts. At all levels of the DMK, right from branch units, a woman deputy secretary has been made mandatory. When it comes to the elections, candidates are chosen after taking into consideration the situation in the particular constituency, candidates fielded by other parties and other such factors.

Moreover, it was the DMK government which ensured 33% reservation for women in local bodies. It is because of that that many women have become powerful and are leading administrations. This has since been raised to 50% and the participation of women in urban local bodies has been increased. Of the 21 mayors, 11 are women. Similarly, when 33% reservation is implemented for women in Parliament and the state legislatures, there will be a level-playing field and increased opportunities for women. That is why, DMK has been consistently insisting on its implementation. However, the BJP government has only enacted  legislation that is of no practical use.

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