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The Rediff Election Interview/BJP candidate Sukumaran Nambiar

May 04, 2004

Sukumaran Nambiar, the Bharatiya Janata Party's all-India treasurer, is contesting from the Chennai North constituency. He is not only a politician but a sportsperson too.

Nambiar -- whose father Nambiar was one of Tamil cinema's leading screen villains -- is an expert in several martial arts, with a black belt in karate. He is a swimmer, shooter, and plays polo and tennis. He says he has been training Indian Army personnel in martial arts since 1984.

Chennai North, with an electorate of 1,997,524, is the largest in Tamil Nadu. It also has the highest number of women voters (984,075).

This constituency is described as a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam fortress, the party having lost only two elections out of the 10 it has contested since 1967.

Nambiar, a classmate of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, was instrumental in cementing the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-BJP alliance.

Nambiar shares his thoughts with Special Contributing Correspondent Shobha Warrier.

It is widely said you were instrumental in the BJP striking an alliance with the AIADMK because you were Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's classmate.

I don't think such a big decision was made on the basis of friendship. It is true that I am a friend of the chief minister. It is a job given to me based on the trust both sides have. When you conduct these kinds of negotiations, it is done in secret. I am always known as a very low profile person. So there is a trust in me by the leaders from both sides. That is why I was chosen for the job. Last time also I was involved. But the publicity was not so much then.

While you were negotiating, were you her friend or a BJP man?

I am always a BJP man. At the same time, I do understand when she talks about things from her party's angle because I am from Tamil Nadu. I think it is very important for us to understand that, which may be difficult for someone who is not from here.

She always meets me as a friend. She also is very much aware that I am a BJP man. I guess with me she can relax a bit, point out some things that she may not do with somebody who she is not familiar with.

It is like a diplomat's job.

Has the BJP forgotten what she did to you in 1999? (Jayalalithaa's withdrawal of support led to the Vajpayee  government's fall)

The question has been asked quite often. I look at it in a different way. As Mr Advani said, and as Mr Vajpayee also has been saying, this is a very different time in Indian politics; that of coalition politics. Allies come in and allies go out. So you should not take a strong stand personally on any political party.

My question is, why isn't anybody questioning the DMK, MDMK and Pattali Makkal Katchi walking out [of the National Democratic Alliance]?

But they didn't do any harm to the government. They didn't pull down a government.

Jayalalithaa going out of the alliance was not sudden. We were having problems with her because she had certain demands that were based on the needs of Tamil Nadu. You can never forget that it is a regional party. As a national party, we have a much wider agenda.

Don't forget, at that time, this alliance was quite new. We also were quite inexperienced. It was only over a period of time we asserted ourselves and ran the coalition successfully.

So you be fair to the lady. What I say is that she was telling us, 'Look, I have to answer my workers and my people.' And you know the Cauvery is such an emotional issue. So she did warn us.

In the case of the DMK and the others, we have had no problems with them, and they were also enjoying the fruits of being in the government. They just kept quiet about everything. They said Vajpayee is a great person, NDA is great, etc. Now they find us communal. Today, when everybody talks about development of the country, they are talking about protecting the Tamil language, secularism and things like that. Let me ask you, what about caste-based politics, which they are following?

We expressed our surprise but we don't say anything personal about them. Now, you see the way the DMK and the PMK speak. [PMK chief] Ramadoss says the BJP is venomous. I hope he remembers all this because after the elections, he should not be thinking that he is going to come back to us. The PMK is famous for jumping from one side to the other. Actually, there has to be a certain behaviour pattern and responsibility for a politician.

What kind of a person is Jayalalithaa?

She is a perfectionist. She works extremely hard. As a result of that, I think her tolerance level is less. It happens to those who feel everybody else also should perform as well as they do. She takes decisions very fast, which goes in her favour most of the time. The decision she takes may be unpopular, but if you look at the practicality of it, it is a totally different scenario.

Is it not true that your party got a raw deal in the alliance? For example, Thirunavukkarasu, who has won from Pudukkottai several times, was not allowed to contest. The BJP is strong in South Chennai but you were given only Chennai North, which is a stronghold of the DMK.

I wouldn't say we are satisfied. At the same time, there are lots of factors involved. We are also not a major party in Tamil Nadu. We are a junior party. Secondly, as far as the sitting seats go, we got all of them. When it comes to Pudukkottai, that was her condition right from the start. There was no question of negotiating. The whole Tamil Nadu knows about the issue. It is an enmity that goes back a long way.

What about Chennai South? The rumour is that Jayalalithaa wants to defeat T R Baalu because he gave her a lot of trouble as the minister for environment.

I can't speak for her. But we got Pondicherry. So, when you get something, you lose something.

Chennai North, your constituency, is a labour dominated area that has been voting for the DMK.

It has nearly 20 lakh voters, and all are not labourers. And why shouldn't the labour not vote for me? Am I some guy who is against labour? No. I have come here to work for the community in general.

My point is, basic infrastructure should be provided to everybody and that should be the same for everybody, the rich and the poor.

Rajnikanth has been described as a friend of yours. Will you ask him to campaign for you?

Yes, he is a very good family friend. He is my father's sishya [disciple] because he used to come to Sabarimala with us.

I know him and understand his thinking. If somebody is not interested in coming to politics directly, why should you go and put pressure on him, and say, 'Look, for my sake, can you do this?' It is a wrong thing to do. We should not put any pressure on him. I will not.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj | Image: Rahil Shaikh


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India Votes 2004 | The Rediff Interviews

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