There are no differences of opinion within the AIADMK on the alliance with the BJP, says Mr. Palaniswami.
AIADMK co-coordinator and Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on Tuesday said there were no differences within his party over continuing the alliance with the BJP for the Assembly election scheduled for later this year. He said he was working with party coordinator-cum-Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam for the development of the AIADMK, the government and the State.
Expressing confidence that the people would give the AIADMK a clear majority, Mr. Palaniswami said in an interview to The Hindu — the first to any media organisation since the Parliamentary elections in 2019 — that the party did not believe in changing policies based on election victory or defeat.
The Chief Minister denied that in February 2017, V.K. Sasikala, former close aide of late party leader Jayalalithaa, had hand-picked him to head the government. According to him, MLAs preferred him for the top job on the basis of his track record of contribution to the party.
Text of the interview:
When you assumed charge as Chief Minister in February 2017, you were seen as the hand-picked candidate of V.K. Sasikala, who was perceived to be very unpopular. Were you confident then that your tenure would last its term and you would lead your party in the 2021 Assembly election?
You know the kind of crisis situation that prevailed then. In that situation, a majority of MLAs preferred me and so I became Chief Minister. All the ministers and MLAs knew that [in the preceding] three-and-half years Honorable Amma (Jayalalithaa) had good faith in me. They were aware that I knew about the party affairs well. From the time I first won an election on the ‘rooster’ symbol [AIADMK-Jayalalithaa faction] in 1989 to Amma’s last day, I was loyal to her and the party, never giving any room for distress. I had gone to jail on seven occasions for participating in party protests. Even when my constituency [Edappadi] was allotted to an ally [PMK in 2001] and Amma offered me a different seat, I refused it and worked for the victory of the alliance candidate. I was always loyal to the party, government and leadership, therefore everyone had faith and I got this opportunity.
I had the faith that the soul of Honorable Amma, which is in me, would guide me and this government, which was formed by her, would complete its term.
When I took charge as Chief Minister on February 16, 2017, some said this government would not last even 10 days. But now this government is set to complete four years. Amma’s government continues to successfully implement people’s welfare schemes and is performing exceptionally well with the goodwill of the people. As a result of this, the Tamil Nadu government is receiving numerous awards like never before in the past. On this occasion I would like to state that as Amma had said, the AIADMK government would exceptionally serve the people for several hundred years to come with the sole aim of people’s welfare.
What lessons did you learn from the AIADMK-led NDA’s rout in the last Lok Sabha elections? Did the results in any way influence your government’s subsequent policy decisions, say for instance, the declaration of Cauvery Delta as protected agricultural zones or the 7.5% reservation for government school students in medical admissions?
Victory and defeat are natural in elections. In a democracy, the people’s verdict is final. We have faith in the people.
Our movement [AIADMK], guided by Puratchi Thalaivar MGR and Puratchi Thalaivi Amma, is not one that changes its policies for the sake of victory or defeat. Under any circumstances, we will never backtrack from our policies drafted for the welfare of the people. During my tours to various districts, I learnt about the needs of the local people. It is only on that basis that Honorable Amma’s government is conceiving and implementing each and every scheme.
The 2021 Assembly election is crucial for you. The AIADMK has been in power for close to 10 years, it faced a rout in the Lok Sabha polls and the DMK is on an upswing after making significant gains in the rural local body polls. What gives you the confidence that the people would give you a third straight win?
In the last 10 years, various schemes have been implemented for the benefit and progress of the people. There is hope. Definitely this time too, the AIADMK will win and score a hat-trick. Wherever I go, people, who have benefitted from the schemes of the Amma’s government, are coming in droves on their own and expressing their massive support. The soul of Puratchi Thalaivar MGR, who still lives in the hearts of the people, and Amma’s soul will always stand by us.
Do you foresee any changes in the composition of your alliance and is there a timeframe for finalising the seat sharing exercise?
There will be no change in the alliance. There may be minor differences of opinion due to each party’s policies. Issues such as seat sharing will be discussed only when elections are notified. Even opposition parties have not done it. Numbers being floated in sections of media on the seats to be allotted to allies are unofficial and merely speculative. The party cannot take responsibility for it.
Also read: T.N. CM rules out coalition government
Some sections within the AIADMK believe that the alliance with the BJP is an electoral liability. Given this, why did you and [party coordinator] Mr Panneerselvam unilaterally declare continuation of an alliance with the national party?
The alliance formed under our [AIADMK] leadership during the previous Lok Sabha polls (2019) is continuing. There are no differences of opinion within our party on the alliance with the BJP. Only in a manner to reaffirm this, we announced the continuation of the alliance in the function in which the Home Minister [Amit Shah] participated.
Several leaders of the BJP were constantly giving the impression that they were reluctant to endorse your candidature for the Chief Minister’s post. At the ground level, would this not create animosity between AIADMK and BJP cadres affecting electoral outcomes?
So far as Tamil Nadu is concerned only the AIADMK is heading the alliance. This front, in Tamil Nadu, will only be known as the AIADMK-led alliance. The AIADMK’s chosen candidate will be the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate as well. There can be no second opinion on this. Not just that, even on Monday, the BJP’s Tamil Nadu in-charge [C.T. Ravi] had said that the AIADMK, which is the major party, will decide on its Chief Ministerial candidate.
Can we expect the AIADMK to contest in a majority of seats like 165 as it did in 2011? How many seats do you expect the AIADMK-alliance to win in the next elections?
We can’t say now about the number of seats we would contest. That would be finalised only after talks with leaders of alliance parties. As for the number of seats we would win, we cannot put a number to that. However, definitely the AIADMK-led alliance will win in a majority of the seats and form the government for a third time in succession.
The party coordinator and Deputy Chief Minister Mr O. Panneerselvam and you were once hailed as ‘double barrel guns’ by party leaders. However, now there are reports of friction. . Have all the differences between you been sorted out?
We both are together exceptionally working for the development of the party, government, the people and Tamil Nadu.
Could you elaborate on your ongoing election tour and the response it has drawn?
While electioneering wherever I go, seeing the people’s uprising and happy expressions on their faces, I have full faith that Amma’s government would be voted back. I have seen six Assembly elections and three Parliamentary elections, and can judge people’s mood to an extent. From the reception accorded to us, I am confident that we will win in majority of seats.
Would your election manifesto include any assurance for providing universal basic income?
The manifesto will be released during elections addressing the requirements for Tamil Nadu’s development and the basic needs of the people.
You and [DMK president] M. K. Stalin have hired independent poll strategists. You have come from the grassroots. Is it necessary for established political parties to trust the strategists more than party functionaries?
Party functionaries, who meet people regularly, know the ground realities well. Only they are continuously struggling for people’s issues. Hence we are forming strategies to face elections based on suggestions given by field level party functionaries. At the same time, in accordance with changing information technology scenario, some changes have to be made.
Mr Stalin had submitted to the Governor a memorandum containing corruption charges against you and your cabinet colleagues. He has put certain conditions to agree to your invitation for a debate on these charges…
The Leader of the Opposition is the one who had given a complaint to the Governor levelling false charges against us. I am calling him to debate only on this. How could we debate on what is pending before the court? [Mr Stalin wanted the CM to get a court stay order vacated in a case.] I am prepared to answer to his charges but he is refusing and trying to avoid a debate citing excuses.
Among the charges in the memorandum, one pertains to a road project in Tirunelveli for which the tender was cancelled one-and-a-half years ago. As the adage goes, a grain is proof for a pot of rice. Therefore, all the charges are false.
Unlike in the erstwhile DMK regime when box tender system was followed, we now have a transparent e-tender system in place in which anyone could submit a bid. The competent bidders gets the tender and all this is sorted out at the level of officials and it does not even come to the Chief Minister. In fact, it was during the DMK regime that the estimate for constructing the new secretariat complex had gone up two fold. Only to cover up corruption charges against the DMK and to derive political mileage in elections, the Leader of Opposition is placing such charges before the people and trying to confuse them.
Do you see scope for a third player like Kamal Haasan to make inroads in the coming elections? Or is it going to remain a fight between the two Dravidian parties?
As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the contest is between alliances led by the two Dravidian parties. People of the State do not support a third front. They have rejected it. The defeat of the Makkal Nala Kootani [People’s Welfare Front] in the 2016 Assembly election is proof of this.
The AIADMK, launched by Puratchi Thalaivar MGR, is a movement of workers. Puratchi Thalaivi Amma, who succeeded Puratchi Thalaivar, had guided crores of workers and protected the party and the government. After having been elected Chief Minister subsequent to passing away of Amma, I have been striving hard in a way that the party workers and all commend me. I am an example of how the cadres can come up if they put in hard work. It is the appeal of Mr Panneerselvam and me that the party workers should work vigilantly and carefully for securing the victory so that the Amma government remains in office.