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September 4, 1999


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India Speaks/ Raja

'I have not much respect for the BJP. I only admire Vajpayee'

I come from a poor family but I grew up in a very politically charged atmosphere. It was all because of my father who loved discussing politics and my athai (aunt) who actively worked for the AIADMK. Ever since I could remember, she was a party worker, and her ideals, her work and her speeches at home influenced me a lot. And I became an ardent fan of MGR, I mean, MGR the politician and not MGR the film actor. I still remember those nights when all of us would sit down and eat our dinner, discussing politics all the time. Earlier, I was only a listener as I was the youngest at home. Soon, I too passionately participated in the discussions. Till recently nobody in our house could eat dinner without discussing politics.

It is not so now mainly because our ideologies differ. Naturally, whenever we had discussions on politics, it ended up in wordy duels and unpleasantness. Our father is so agitated by our fights that he has strictly prohibited us from discussing politics in the dining room. His instruction is that we should not bring our political opinions inside the house. So, politics stays outside the house now.

I agreed with my aunt that MGR was a nice human being and he cared a lot for the less privileged. MGR's concern for the poor was genuine. I have read a lot about his political maneouvrings but that do not change my opinion about him as a leader who cared for the poor.

Now, can you see a single politician who cares for the poor or the underprivileged? All of them come with folded hands without any shame, asking for our votes but they forget the poor voters the moment they are elected. I am happy that people have become more and more aware of the crookedness of the politicians now. I feel they can no longer fool us. The voters have become more and more assertive too. At least that is what I think. It may be the case with the urban population but our villages still remain in the dark and I have no idea who will enlighten them.

I have always been interested in history and when in school and later on too, I used to look for books on Indian history. I have studied only up to tenth standard and after that, I could not study. From this job, I make enough money to sustain myself. It was through books that I came to know about Indira Gandhi. Even when my aunt and brothers admired MGR and Jayalalitha, I admired Indira Gandhi. She was one strong woman that India had as a leader. I don't think Free India has produced a stronger leader than her. I was a little baby when the 1971 war happened but I read a lot about it later and as I read more, my admiration for her increased.

After MGR's death, I slowly shifted our loyalty to the DMK. I could not somehow accept Jayalalitha as a good leader but my aunt used to argue her case. With the entry of Jayalalitha, the AIADMK as a party started deteriorating. Were you here when the famous marriage took place? My God! You should have seen the amount of money she blew away. She spent lakhs and lakhs of rupees on a wedding when many poor in the state could not even afford a meal a day. But our villagers do not know anything about this. For them she is still the idayakkani (heart-throb)! Everybody knows that she is responsible for the elections, still the villagers will vote for her and she will win some seats.

But I want Vajpayee to win this election as I feel he is the greatest leader that India has produced after Indira Gandhi. He is honest, he is strong, he is straightforward and he is calm. No, it is not because Kalaignar (Scholar: aka M Karunanidhi) asks us to vote for him that I support him, I had read about him and heard about him earlier too. Last year, I was here at the beach to listen to him speak. I do not know Hindi or English but I can feel a kind of warmth and strength in his speeches.

I told my brothers that they also should support Vajpayee, but they agreed reluctantly and after a lot of persuasion. I am sure that Vajpayee will win this election. His chances of winning the election are 99 pc and I am even willing to add the 1 pc too. But I have not much respect for the BJP. I only admire Vajpayee.

Where does Sonia Gandhi stand in front of Vajpayee? What kind of political experience does she have? Just because she is married to the family, she cannot be the prime minister of India. I don't like the Congress party at all even though I admire Indira Gandhi. What have they done for the country? Why are we still poor? I feel the Congress party should be blamed for all our problems.

I cannot live without reading the newspaper. No, I don't accept any paper's views blindly. In that case, I shouldn't be supporting Vajpayee! It is not because we won the Kargil war that I support him. Why are you surprised that I know about Kargil? Didn't I tell you that I read newspapers daily? The war is won by the jawans but you need a good leader at the top. Otherwise, they will lose their morale. See how strong Vajpayee was during the war. My admiration for him increased by leaps and bounds after the war. I have only one disappointment. Why didn't we see the hero in him earlier? Why did we have to wait for so long? In the bargain, we had to be content with so many mediocre leaders. I have always felt that you need strong, great leaders at the top. Only then can a country prosper.

Raja, who sells bhelpuri on Marina Beach, spoke to Shobha Warrier.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

India Speaks

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