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September 2, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/V Gopalswamy 'Vaiko'

'After Anna, I admire Vajpayee the most'

Vaiko I t must have been quite embarrassing for Marumalarchi DMK leader Vaiko to sit next to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and talk to him after all that had happened between them these last few years. Vaiko was the most powerful leader in the DMK after Karunanidhi before he was expelled from the party for criticising dynastic politics.

The general talk is that the reason why Karunnidhi did not give him more seats than the Pattali Makkal Kachi was because the Tamil Nadu CM fears the MDMK may eat into the DMK votebank in the 2001 assembly election. It was only after intervention by top BJP leaders that Vaiko stopped sulking and accepted the five seats.

Vaiko is among the few gentlemen one sees in politics today. He is extremely articulate and his fiery speeches in Tamil can create problems for the DMK in future, as the party does not have any great orator after Karunanidhi.

Vaiko took time off from his busy campaign schedule to come to Madras to release his party's manifesto when Shobha Warrier caught up with him.

You wanted more than five seats and initially even refused to accept the five seats that were offered by the DMK. Did Vajpayee or Advani finally persuade you to accept what was offered by the DMK?

Our party wanted parity with the other parties. At the same time, I want others to understand that our party is spread out throughout the state. Even in a remote hamlet, we have a unit. You can't see a village without our party flag post. The greatest asset of our party is the dedicated young party workers. So, we will be able to help all our alliance candidates in all the constituencies. Therefore, we wanted minimum of seven seats. But it was not agreeable to the DMK high command. But we didn't express any unhappiness or create any trouble for the alliance [over this].

But you were sulking and were reluctant to accept the five seats.

You cannot use the word 'reluctant'. We were very firm that we should get a fair deal. At that time, Vajpayeeji and Advaniji telephoned me and they made a request that in the larger interests of the NDA, I should accept. I had to consider the future of the country and the alliance. So, I said, from my side there will not be any problem. But the basic honour of my party should be protected. But I was very careful about one thing. I didn't utter a single word, which would have gone against the mutual understanding and the trust of the allied parties. I was very careful. And, in our party, nobody, no other office-bearer expressed any discontent. We maintained discipline.

Finally, we discussed a lot and we also deliberated a lot as we were preparing for any eventuality.

Did you ever think of quitting the alliance?

No, we never thought of quitting the alliance. Our alliance is headed by Vajpayee. I was very clear about one thing, that I would not ask the people to vote for anybody else apart from Vajpayee. That was the strategy that we were having in our mind. Even in the worst circumstances, we would have only requested the people to vote for Vajpayee. Anyway, past is past.

Realizing our problems and difficulties, both Vajpayee and Advani conveyed through Rangarajan Kumaramangalam that they would give us one seat from their quota of six seats. That seat was Sivaganga. Then, I placed this matter before our party. Some 82 people, including all the district secretaries participated in the meeting and I am happy to tell you that they unanimously decided not to take the seat from the BJP.

We expressed our gratitude and thanks for the good gesture and goodwill of Vajpayee and Advani. Immediately I telephoned both of them and conveyed our thanks. Vajpayee was so overwhelmed that he said he would never forget this gesture of ours. I told him, 'Okay Sir'. From my side, I will always help you and stand by you because the country needs you.

You have been praising Vajpayee a lot. What quality do you admire in him?

I have moved with several leaders in my career as a politician but I find in Vajpayee certain extraordinary good qualities of leadership, which I could not find in anybody else. They are his humility, his forthright transparency and straightforward approach. He does not indulge in the crooked manouevring politics. He never tolerates sycophancy and flattery. This is a quality that I could not find in other leaders except of course Anna [C N Annadurai].

But in Tamil Nadu politics we see only sycophancy and flattery.

I was taking about Anna and he was different from al the others. It is true that politicians are under unbearable stress as back-stabbing and jealousy are part of today's politics. So, they are always under tremendous pressure. At such times, when they hear flattery, it is like music because those words relieve them of stress and strain. So, in a way, flattery helps politicians. There is nothing wrong in flattery.

What about sycophancy?

Sycophancy is different from flattery. Even then, Vajpayee keeps a balance. He never listens to any words of flattery. He is above petty party politics, caste minded and sectarian approach, he is above religious fanaticism. I admire all these admirable qualities in him. India will become one only under him and India will become number one in the world under him.

When all the other partners in Tamil Nadu were wavering, you were the only person who openly supported Vajpayee and you were the first person to send the letter of support too. Do you feel you got a fair deal now?

I am treated well by Vajpayee and I am respected by the BJP. Any moment, I can knock on the door and enter Vajpayee's room. I have the privilege of talking to him over telephone. He has given me abundant affection and love. What more do I want?

Is it because the DMK heads the alliance here that you got only five seat while the PMK could manage nine?

See, I don't want to equate myself with anybody else. But my aim is to work for the larger interests of the country. The decision to accept the five seats was not taken by me alone but after several hours of discussions with the party.

Were the cadres unhappy? Did they want to come out of the alliance?

Our party is a disciplined party. Once the decision was taken, our cadres will abide by it like the soldiers following the orders of their captain.

But people feel the DMK is scared of the MDMK gaining more acceptance in the state after the election.

This is all desk writers' gossip. There are writers who sit at the desk and imagine things and create stories.

You don't feel that the DMK is scared of you?

In politics, changes do happen and most of the DMK cadres are happy to work with us.

Jayalalitha is attracting huge crowds in all her election meetings. Do you feel people will buy her story?

Those are all procured crowd; bought-up crowd. They lure people by paying them money and other comforts.

The BJP is talking about Sonia's origins in all its party meetings. Do you think people of India care about Sonia's origins?

I have not made Sonia an issue in any of my speeches. But the NDA manifesto has states that in future, foreign born citizen should be debarred from becoming prime minister, the President and the vice president. I agree with that.

Why don't you talk about her foreign origins in your speeches? Don't you see it as an issue?

That is because even in other aspects, she is nowhere near Vajpayee. So, why should I rake up the issue of her foreign origin then?

If the NDA wins the elections, will the MDMK join the government?

The NDA will win and win by a huge margin. My prediction is that the NDA will capture 380 to 400 seats. And yes, we have decided last year itself that we would join the government. I said, the party would join the ministry and not me. I will not join the ministry. My party may take any decision but as an individual, I have a right to take such a decision. But I am sure that my party colleagues will not put me in an embarrassing position.

But why are you so much against joining the ministry?

I cannot explain certain things now. Only time will tell.

Were you not harsh in your comments on T N Seshan contesting against Advani?

No. I merely stated that in a circus, there are people to entertain the crowd, to make them laugh. You need buffoons in a circus, don't you? Haven't you heard of court jesters? You need court jesters in politics too.

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