Vaiko aka V Gopalasamy, leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, was the star campaigner of the 2004 Lok Sabha election in Tamil Nadu.
Vaiko traveled throughout the state for 55 days without a break. Wherever he went, large numbers of people gathered to hear him.
After seeing the crowds he attracted on the campaign trail, many people see him as a future chief minister of the state.
Vaiko was the rising star of the DMK when he was sidelined and eventually ousted to make way for party president M Karunanidhi's son M K Stalin. But Stalin has failed to live up to the expectations of the party and his father.
So, when the DMK decided to quit the National Democratic Alliance, Karunanidhi knew he would need Vaiko's help to campaign for the alliance. Karunanidhi, with his advanced age and failing health, could no longer shoulder the burden.
In keeping with Karunanidhi's wishes, Vaiko, who had been jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's government, too left the NDA.
Vaiko spoke to Contributing Special Correspondent Shobha Warrier.
Am I interviewing the future chief minister of Tamil Nadu?
Not at all. I am not planning anything like that.
You have been drawing huge crowds everywhere, more than Mr Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalithaa put together.
Please don't compare me with Dr Kalaignar [artiste, as Karunanidhi is known to his followers]. He is the tallest leader in Tamil Nadu, and I am sure he will draw larger crowds than I can.
Yes, wherever I go, in the hot sun and pouring rain, people are coming out to listen.
Are you pleasantly surprised to see so many people?
I am not surprised. I am moved. It is a pleasant feeling. The affection I am getting from the people of Tamil Nadu, not the committed political cadre but the general public, moves me.
Do you think the people of Tamil Nadu feel a kind of sympathy for you because you were arrested and put in jail under POTA for more than a year?
I feel there are two factors. The first is sympathy and the second is, people now understand that I stand for certain principles. But they know for sure that I am for non-violence in Tamil Nadu.
You speak according to the mood of the crowd. How do you change your style to suit the public?
All I can say is that this is the gift of Goddess Nature. When my mind is clear, when my conscience is clear, I can just speak. Thoughts flood my mind the moment I start speaking. I don't plan anything. I don't read from a prepared text. I don't carry any reference points. I only need a good mike. I don't need anything other than that. Then, thoughts flow like a river. Even in Parliament, I have never referred to any notes.
Have you ever attracted such crowds before?
In the 40 years of my political life, I have not seen such public support, such unprecedented crowds. I don't believe in mobilising crowds. First of all, we don't have enough money to do that. These 'readymade' crowds do not respond the way ordinary people do. I have seen people waiting for me for more than an hour in the hot sun. I saw people standing in the pouring rain too. Such sights moved me. When I see them, words just pour out. I am able to communicate with them emotionally. They also tell me that I speak from my heart.
Can you narrate any incident that emotionally moved you while campaigning?
In Kancheepuram, the birthplace of Anna [the late DMK founder C N Annadurai], more than 10,000 people came to listen to me on a morning. They stood in the hot sun. I became so emotional seeing them.
In Erode, the birthplace of Periyar [the late E V Ramaswamy Naicker, founder of the Dravidian movement], it was pouring when I reached there. I became emotional when I saw women braving the torrential rain. I requested them not to sit in the rain, but to go home. I told them I would come again when it was not raining because I am not going to Parliament. But nobody got up and left the place. I was moved by their love.
I must admit I hadn't thought of these two incidents before. I haven't spoken about these incidents anywhere. But when you asked me the question, these two images flashed in front of me.
The POTA review panel has asked the prosecutor to withdraw the case against you. Do you feel vindicated?
Now the whole country knows political vendetta was the reason why Jayalalithaa used POTA against me. See, even after the Supreme Court verdict and the POTA review committee recommendation, they are not ready to withdraw the case. Is this a democracy? Isn't this dictatorship?
Was the POTA review committee not constituted by the Centre to help you come out?
The review committee was constituted only 13 months after the bill became an act. I was in prison for more than a year. It was due to the pressure put on the government by the Opposition parties that the committee was constituted. The government was forced to constitute the committee. When 301 MPs belonging to 36 political parties gave a memorandum to the review committee, the ordinance was brought in.
Would you say now that the other members of the NDA were not your friends or sympathisers? In hindsight, do you feel they treated you badly?
Friends are friends. George [Fernandes, Union defence minister] is my good friend. He came to see me thrice. What I feel is, Mr [L K] Advani [Union home minister], for whom also I have respect as a friend, wanted to enter into an alliance with the AIADMK. So, he didn't want to incur the wrath of Jayalalithaa. This must be the sole reason for the indifferent attitude of the NDA.
If there is a shortage of a few seats for the NDA to form the next government, will you support it?
It was after a lot of deliberation that I took the decision to come out of the NDA. Now, I have taken a decision not to go with the BJP at any cost. I am opposed to the Hindutva forces. When I was in jail, I realised their motive was to implement the hidden agenda. In order to strengthen the Dravidian movement, it is my prime duty to oppose the BJP.
But were you not the first Dravidian party to make friends with the BJP?
In 1998, when Advani came to attend a conference, I told him, if there is a threat to secularism, I will be the first to raise my voice. For the first time, Mr Advani gave me the assurance that the BJP is committed to genuine secularism. That was the first time Advani said so, and I was the reason.
How did you feel when you had to join hands with the Congress, which has abused you all these years?
In politics, it happens. I look at it this way. Whatever the Congress party says, it is committed to secularism. They are against the venomous trend of communalism. They might have committed one or two mistakes, but overall they are committed to secularism. Therefore, in the larger interests of the country, I have joined hands with the Congress.
You don't feel bad at all?
I don't feel bad.
You are not uncomfortable also?
No. See, I come from a Congress family. My grandfather was a great Congress leader. Congressmen in Tamil Nadu hug me wherever I go. They shower me with affection.
Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj | Image: Rahil Shaikh