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The Rediff Election Interview/MDMK leader Vaiko
March 18, 2004
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham general secretary V Gopalaswamy or Vaiko was the first member of Parliament and chief of a registered political party in the country to be arrested and jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act when he was arrested on his arrival at Chennai airport from the US on Thursday, July 11, 2002.
Known for his pro-LTTE leanings, Vaiko was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1978 to 1996. In 1994, after being expelled from the DMK for questioning the rise of Karunanidhi's son Stalin in the party, he formed the MDMK and became its general secretary.
The MDMK aligned with the NDA and in the 1998 and 1999 general elections, and Vaiko was elected to the Lok Sabha on both occasions. But the party broke away from the NDA last year and is fighting the Lok Sabha election as an ally of the DMK–led Democratic Progressive Alliance, of which the Congress is also a member.
The veteran politician spoke to Contributing Special Correspondent Shobha Warrier last week.
What prompted you to leave the NDA?
Today, there is a threat to the secular fabric of India, which is the hallmark of our democracy. Religious fundamentalist forces are raising their threats. Of course, we were a part of the NDA. The MDMK was one of the signatories to the NDA's National Agenda, which was a total commitment to secularism and protection of minorities. But for the past two years, Hindutva forces, which were lying low, have sharpened their arsenal to make India a theocratic state. I have all respect and affection for Vajpayee but he has become vulnerable in the hands of the Sangh Parivar.
One testimony to my charge is the Union government's decision in 2003 to file a petition in the Supreme Court to vacate the stay of the apex court, not allowing anybody in the disputed area of Ayodhya. Another great threat to Indian democracy is the calculated onslaught by the education ministry; to distort history, inject vicious falsehood in the text books of school children; which is more dangerous and can be branded as cultural aggression and invasion, which will ultimately destroy the unity and integrity of India.
Therefore, in prison itself, I was determined to fight these forces and come out of the BJP-led alliance.
Yet statistics provided by the central government indicate that communal clashes have decreased substantially over the last five years…
Communal clashes, stray incidents, do not reflect the real threat. Incidents could take place over petty things. But the real problem is when there is a deliberate attempt to inject their doctrine of Hindutva. I see it as a threat. That was not there in the initial years. They never attempted anything. We were very careful.
Did you perceive this shift in the NDA agenda after your arrest and the days you spent in jail?
Even before POTA was invoked against me, I had raised my voice in NDA meetings. I had written in my party newspaper about the threat, particularly about the distortion of history in text books. It was not because I was detained; it was just a coincidence. When they filed a petition in the Supreme Court (in the Ayodhya case), I wrote a strong, long letter to the prime minister. I quoted liberally from the national agenda and asked him several questions.
Did he respond?
He acknowledged the letter but there was no proper reply. The same letter was read in the NDA meeting by our representative, Dr Krishnan, MP. They were shocked and pleaded with him not to give out copies to anybody, particularly to the Opposition parties. Therefore, I would say I never failed in my duty.
But no one heard about this till you left the NDA.
That was because you are not a member of the NDA, madam! Since you could not attend any NDA meetings, how would you hear my voice? I was in jail. As a disciplined party, I raised the issues in a proper manner. I have done my duty. Since they did not change their ways, we had no other option but quit. I took that decision months back.
Has your arrest under POTA anything to do with the decision to quit the NDA?
Even when POTA was hanging above me like a sword, I was not perturbed. I didn't want to get any concession from the government. I was fighting my battle legally in the courts. I didn't ask them to talk to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu regarding POTA. I made it very clear to George Fernandes when he came to see me thrice in jail. I told him, 'kindly tell Vajpayee not to plead with the chief minister of Tamil Nadu regarding my case. One day, she will say, Vaiko made the central government plead with me.' So, my decision has nothing to do with POTA.
What was the promise given by the central government? That it (POTA) would not be misused. But it has been, misused, abused.
Do you feel the NDA government did not help you?
I want to make it clear that I was least bothered about my detention. I was bothered only about the way they were moving (towards communalism). Even when I was in the NDA, I voted against the BJP private member's bill on a common civil code. Mr Pramod Mahajan pleaded with me saying, 'the Trinamool Congress has gone out of the House. You can simply go out, there won't be any embarrassment. You should not vote against the government.' I said, 'No. I will be present in the House and vote against the bill.'
In the case of POTA, at all the meetings, I analysed it section by section and said it would strike at the root of democracy.
If you ask George Fernandes, he will tell you the truth. I think he will not hide anything.
There is another factor in my leaving the NDA. Kalaignar (DMK President M Karunanidhi) came to see me in jail. He was my mentor. I have worked with him for several years. The fraternity was cemented after the visit. We both felt there was a threat to the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. This lady, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, under the camouflage of the Anna DMK, is trying to demolish all the cherished principles of the Dravidian movement of Anna (DMK founder C N Annadurai) and Periyar (Dravidian movement founder E V Ramaswamy Naicker). We have decided to strengthen the Dravidian movement, for which I have worked in the prime of my life.
I have gone to jail 24 times. So I decided to join Kalaignar, we would be like a double barrel gun!
In what way is the chief minister a threat to the Dravidian movement?
What is the necessity to have veda pathasalas in Tamil Nadu? What is the concept of the Vedas? It is horrible. It has not been the Tamil concept for thousands of years. Tamil is encouraged by the chief minister in the temples, (even though) she doesn't have any faith in the Dravidian ideology. Therefore, it is very dangerous. A direct enemy is easy to fight. But she is doing all this under camouflage. So I thought I would join hands with the DMK to fight these forces.
Will your campaign be against the state government or the central government?
Both. Now, Jayalalitha is trying to project only Vajpayee. After some time, she will say, who knows Vajpayee? People voted for me. Now, she is afraid. People are angry and upset with her. So she is trying to project Vajpayee. She has not even said in her manifesto what she has achieved; she is just projecting Vajpayee. But we will be alert and caution people about the atrocities she has committed against people, against government servants, weavers, farmers, the press.
You recently said India is not shining, and there's no feel-good factor. As a former member of the federal government, are you also not responsible for that?
I would say we have achieved something, at the same time, there are darker areas. But our achievement started from the Nehru period. Whatever we have achieved today was because of what was started by previous governments. Whichever government was in power, this would have happened.
The Indian economy was growing at a very slow pace; but in the last few years, the growth rate has been nearly 8%.
Growth is like a cycle. There were setbacks in between. Even during the period of Indira Gandhi, we grew well. Economic growth fluctuates. It happens to all countries. It is not that we have not achieved anything earlier. We have achieved then, and now also. You can't say only the BJP can claim the credit for today's growth. IT revolution is not their brain child. It was already there. It is because of individual effort (that India is shining), and not because of the government.
You were ousted from the DMK because you spoke against dynasties in politics. But people like Dayanidhi Maran (Karunanidhi's grandnephew and the late Murasoli Maran's son) are being election tickets, while Karunanidhi's son M K Stalin being given more powers.
We are two different parties. I have come out of the (DMK) and formed my own party. I am not concerned about whatever happens in the DMK as it is their affair. We are just fraternal parties now. Why should I express any opinion on their affairs?
What is your opinion on dynastic politics in general?
The question is totally irrelevant. I don't want to answer.
You are not contesting the Lok Sabha election. Why have you not fielded your son or any of your relatives?
My brother is in public service and though a member of the MDMK, he doesn't enjoy any position in the party. The party belongs to lakhs and lakhs of cadres. My son is an MBA but he has not visited my party headquarters even once.
So you don't believe in dynastic politics?
I don't say anything of that sort.
How do you react to the opinion polls that predict victory for the NDA?
These opinion polls fluctuate. It can change after 25 days.
How did George Fernandes and you become such good friends?
I look at friendships above politics. We have been friends for the last 25 years. When he came to know that I was sick and had fainted, he rushed to see me. He was concerned. Similarly, the moment I came to know that he met with an accident, I sent a telegram from prison. I have good friends in all parties, in the Congress, too.
Did Fernandes ever try to dissuade you from leaving the NDA?
Not at all. What he said was, you are justified in your decision.
There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. Do you believe that?
It is not the case not only in India but all over the world.
What about ideology?
Ideologies are permanent, concepts are permanent. If a politician changes his ideology, he is a hypocrite.
What were your days in prison like?
They treated me like a criminal, not as a political detenue. While under MISA, we were political detenues but in POTA, there are no such privileges for a politician. I am a man who takes everything sportingly. When adversity arises, I turn it to my advantage. So I read a lot, wrote a lot, contemplated, communicated with the cadres... I played volleyball with other prisoners.
You lost a lot of weight in jail...
But I have gained a lot of political weight! (laughs)
Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj