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|February 14, 2002||
The Election Interview/Dr K Krishnaswamy
But for now, he is busy with other pressing issues -- like taking on All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam giant J Jayalalitha. Elected thrice from Ottapidaram, a reserved seat in Tuticorin district, Krishnaswamy switched to Andipatti to battle Tamil Nadu's strongest political heavyweight. Yet he does not mention her name even once during an interview with A Ganesh Nadar. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to contest the election from here? This is not your regular constituency.
Puthiya Tamizhagam is a political party with a strong dalit base, especially in the southern districts. It is emerging as an alternate to the Dravidian parties. We have been fielding candidates in every election since 1996 -- parliamentary, assembly and in the by-elections, so it is normal that we would contest this election. Nothing surprising about it.
What are your chances against Jayalalitha?
We have a very strong dalit base here. In the 1998-99 parliamentary election, we got 18,000 votes in the Andipatti assembly segment.
What are your chances against the state government machinery?
There are all sorts of violations. Violation before the poll process, during the poll process, and at the time of polling. Malpractices started four months back. The whole state machinery has gone to Andipatti. All welfare measures have been concentrated here. You won't believe the number of roads they have laid here in this period... The number of buildings constructed here to woo voters. The entire thing was a poll exercise.
I wonder if the Election Commission exists to conduct polls in Andipatti or are they being conducted by the state government? The public works department, the highways department, the revenue department, the police department, everyone is here. The EC has fixed Rs 6 lakh [as the expenditure limit] for every candidate. Only a blind man will believe that only Rs 6 lakh are being spent by the AIADMK candidate.
In 1966-67 there were two very rich candidates in Coimbatore. One was N Mahalingam and the other was Ponnusamy Chettiar. They both gave silver pots to each household. This was 40 years back. They both lost. Similarly the gifts of the AIADMK to the voter will not get them votes.
Earlier they used to distribute money to individual voters. Now it is a wholesale market. They are purchasing entire villages.
How come the opposition did not put up a common candidate? That would have been the most sensible thing to do in such a situation.
That is what I have been saying from the very beginning. A common interest is lacking here. I am for a common candidate. I spoke to M Karunanidhi [former chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief], Elangovan of the Congress and the CPI's R Nallakannu. Nothing happened.
In our country caste plays a decisive role in the electoral battle. What is the equation here?
Before my entry into Andipatti, the Mukulathar factor was all important. But after my entry the 'submerged classes' factor is coming up. Dalits equal the Thevars in voting strength, maybe we are 2 per cent less than them. There are 17 per cent Naidus. The non-Thevars are in a majority. Seventy per cent are non-Thevars. And nobody likes domination by one caste for a long period of time.
Even though Andipatti has been a VVIP constituency since M G Ramachandran chose it as his seat, there has been no extraordinary development here.
Untouchability is practised here in the extremest possible form. The two-tumbler system is prevalent in every alternate village. There is no alternative to farming. No development.
Are the other dalit parties supporting you?
The John Pandian group has no base here. The Dalit Panthers have not come out openly in support of us, but their people are with us.
You spearheaded an agitation against the tea estates in Manjolai in Tirunelveli district. What did you achieve?
I got the wages increased from Rs 53 a day to Rs 76. Now they are blaming the recession and reducing wages again. We will have to fight again.
You seem to be fascinated with hilly areas, whether it is Manjolai or Kodaikanal or Ooty.
The PT stands not for dalits only. It stands for the minorities, the submerged masses, the marginalised sections. And in the hilly areas it is hard to organise anything. The landlords are well-entrenched and they have ample money and muscle power.
How will the voters of Andipatti vote?
The AIADMK cadres and the cops will vote for their candidate, not the others.
Photograph: Jewella C Miranda
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