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'We don't need Reliance'

August 24, 2007 13:13 IST
Before Reliance Fresh faced the ire of the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh -- where 10 newly opened shops were shut down in Lucknow on Thursday, August 23 -- Mukesh Ambani's retail chain has encountered stiff opposition in Tamil Nadu.

Dr S Ramadoss, the Pattal Makkal Katchi leader, is spearheading the opposition to Reliance Fresh on the ground that it will break the backbone of the rural economy in the southern state.

His PMK is the third most powerful party in Tamil Nadu, after the the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, AIADMK, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, DMK.

He has mastered the fine art of allying with the winner every time. An art which makes smaller parties like the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, MDMK, Dalit Panthers of India, Congress, the Communists and the Puthiya Tamilagam follow him to the camp he chooses.

In Tamil Nadu, he is doing exactly what the Communists are doing at the Centre -- even though he is part of the ruling alliance in the state, he opposes it at every opportunity.

He had state Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on the backfoot both on the satellite township and airport expansion plans. After announcing both schemes with great fanfare the chief minister had to withdraw his plans following PMK opposition.

Dr Ramadoss opposes Reliance Fresh in the retail market and Tata Titanium on the industrial front. Again, the normally wily Karunanidhi has been forced to back down. Dr Ramadoss is making Karunanidhi aware at every step that the latter heads a minority government.

By his clever opposition, he has seized the ground that should have been occupied by the normally vociferous Jayalalithaa, leader of the Opposition in the state assembly. These days, he has checkmated both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.

Dr Ramadoss is the most powerful politician in northern Tamil Nadu; his caste, the Vanniyars, dominate the region. To oppose the Tata project and meet up with the Nadar community, which dominates the state's retailing community, the former medical practitioner -- whose son Anbumani heads the Union health ministry -- traveled to Tirunelveli district in southern Tamil Nadu.

Between public meetings in Sathankulam and Radhapuram, he took time off to tell Special Correspondent A Ganesh Nadar why he opposes Reliance Fresh's plans for the state.

How do you manage to be on the winning side in every election?

I do not live in an ivory tower. I have my ear to the ground. I discuss politics with my partymen every day. I know what is happening in the state. I am aware of what people want, their likes and dislikes at all times.

Why are you opposing Reliance Fresh?

I am opposing them because they will break the backbone of the rural economy. The small traders will have to close down. They will not be able to compete with such a giant. I am here to safeguard the retailer. They belong to my state. Reliance is an outsider.

How long can you enforce this ban against Reliance Fresh?

They have opened shops only in Chennai. They will have to close them down and go away. We will enforce the ban as long as they are here.

What political game are you playing? You won the assembly election in the company of the DMK, promised them unconditional support to form the government and now oppose them publicly on every issue.

Just because we support the government does not mean that we will support every action of theirs. They are here to take care of the people. Whenever we feel that their action will harm the people we have to oppose them. We will play the part of a healthy Opposition.

If you play the part of the Opposition does that not place you on the same side of the fence as Ms Jayalalithaa?

Jayalalithaa does not have any original ideas. After we take a stand she joins us.

Does that mean you will fight the next election in the company of the AIADMK?

It does not mean anything like that. We have a winning combination and we will stick to it.

You are upset with the Supreme Court for staying the 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Castes in elite institutes of higher education.

I am very upset. The only thing that is to be done is to amend the Constitution to include reservation for the OBCs.

Why is your son Anbumani always involved in one controversy or the other?

He is the health minister of the country. He is the youngest minister. He will naturally get carried away with his enthusiasm. That's why he gets involved in controversies but his intentions are good. He wants to create a healthy nation. The tobacco lobby doesn't like him.

Who is the best minister from Tamil Nadu?

There is no doubt that Anbumani is the best performing minister from Tamil Nadu. In Villupuram on August 11, he administered an oath to thousands of youth. A ten-point charter of good behaviour. You know we don't encourage our party men to drink. That is his initiative.

Do you realise that if you succeed in throwing out Reliance Fresh from Tamil Nadu it may have repercussions all over the country?

I know that, but I don't care. That's a problem that Reliance has to deal with. I am not interested in their problems.

How did you get into this retail war? Did the Nadars approach you?

Nobody has to approach me. When I realised that a problem will arise I opposed it. I don't need anyone to tell me what to do.

But competition is good for the consumer.

I don't agree with that. We have enough traders who compete with each other. We don't need Reliance. In the beginning they will pay the farmer more and sell at a loss.

Later, when the local retailers close shop they will reduce their rate of purchase and increase the sales price. There will be no one to oppose them.

Why are you opposing the Tatas' titanium plant? Don't you want any industries in Tamil Nadu?

I have nothing against a titanium plant. But I don't want the Tatas to implement it. I want the Tamil Nadu government to do it. The government should not bully the people to sell their land and then hand it over to the Tatas on a platter. You know the price of titanium. They are going to mint money. I want the government to exploit the state's mineral resources not a private company.

The PMK does not have a single MLA in southern Tamil Nadu. Your party does not even contest elections here. Why are you holding meetings here?

These are not election meetings. I have been asked by the state government to find out the opinion of the locals, what they think about the Tatas, about the plant. The people do not want to give their land. They know they are promised jobs but they will be only watchmen and labourers on the plant. They educated and high paying jobs will go to outsiders.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

A Ganesh Nadar