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February 5, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Subramanian Swamy

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'Chidamabaram has turned out to be a third-rate failure'

Dr Subramanian Swamy Till last year, Dr Subramanian Swamy was one of the most vociferous critics of J Jayalalitha, and single-handedly fought against the former Tamil Nadu chief minister. And, in a quicksilver decision, today he is one of her allies. The past is past and today is different, that seems to be the buzzword of all politicians.

Shobha Warrier met Dr Swamy after he announced his decision to contest the general election from Madurai, and this time he was courtesy personified.

We are really curious to know how this transformation took place. You were one of the most vociferous critics of Jayalalitha when she was in power. And now you are her ally!

It began slowly. After she was out of power, there was an election for the mayor of Madras and we put up Chandralekha as a candidate. Jayalalitha had already put up a candidate then. One day I got a message form her emissary that she would like to withdraw her candidate in our favour, if I don't reject her offer.

But weren't you suspicious then?

I did not become suspicious because I was unhappy with Karunanidhi who had done nothing to expose Jayalalitha and her government. He appropriated the entire thing and tried to push me out of Tamil Nadu politics. So, I felt that at least this lady with whom I had a straight, open fight, had the courage to support our candidate for a greater goal, that is to defeat Karunanidhi. So, I accepted her offer and thanked her publicly.

Did you meet her then?

I met her only in March 1997.

Was it at some function?

No, there was a formal meeting between the two parties at her party office.

Did she invite you?

Yes, of course. Then I invited her for my birthday here in September 1997. So, it developed over a period of time.

How did the first meeting go? Was it informal and cordial?

J Jayalalitha It was cordial. You see, we had been on good terms in 1990-91. Basically she thinks very highly of my educational background. And I think very highly of her intelligence and ability. She is a courageous person. She has many good qualities.

But after she became chief minister, people around her gave all kinds of impression about me and she made a public statement that I was a mosquito, a fly and all that. Therefore I said, after all the help I had given you, if you are going to call me this, I'll fight it out.

Earlier, were you simply taking revenge on her?

No, I did everything for a public cause. I did not speak any lies. People accepted what I said. She has paid the penalty of losing the election because of my campaign. I think now she is a much better person than Karunanidhi.

In politics, you have to balance these things; what is good for the country, what is available and what is possible. I ask everybody who have opposed this alliance only one question. If I don't combine with her, is it good for Karunanidhi or bad for Karunanidhi? Everybody says, it is good for Karunanidhi because it means vote division.

What people think is, is it morally right to align with her when you were her severest critic?

How can you say what people think? Twentytwo per cent voted for her. There is such a big chunk of people who vote for her. So, I cannot go by the cocktail circuit, the drawing room politicians or drawing room intellectuals to know what people are saying. People are not saying that.

You mean ordinary people accept this alliance.

Ordinary people want good government. Within a short time of her going out of power, people became dissatisfied with her successor. So, for the sake of the ordinary people, I combined with her.

You exposed her corrupt deeds for which she has not been punished. So, don't you feel your work was only half-done?

It is the job of the government to punish her. It is not my job.

Still, your work is half-done...

I agree. But the government took away everything from me. They went and filed an application that I should be removed. I want to ask the so-called intellectuals of Madras that when Karunanidhi moved an application in court that I should be taken out from the case because I am a private individual, why didn't they object? True, I filed those cases. But when I went to court the State said, remove Swamy from this. And I have been removed.

So, this alliance came about only because you had been removed from those cases.

No. From day one she said, I don't care about the cases. You can continue to fight them in courts.

Will you still say she was a corrupt chief minister?

Whatever I said then, I stand by it. See, Indira Gandhi was wrong in declaring the Emergency. She tried to put me in jail but she could not. People voted her back and I worked with her after that. Even though I was not a member of the Congress, she sought my help on China. You can't have personal vendetta, you see.

What is my job? I am in the Opposition and someone's doing a bad job. I expose them. They come down. Then it is the job of the government which comes to power after that to exercise responsibility. Here you want me to give Karunanidhi a wonderful time. Swamy will do all the work and you will enjoy life! This is what you are saying in effect.

You told me the last time I met you that Jayalalitha tried to murder you 12 times. It was alleged that she was responsible for the acid attack on Chandralekha. Now you are friends. Did you ever think about all that?

I never talked about all that. I don't take it personally. Why didn't Karunanidhi do anything about it?

So, you have forgiven her and forgotten all that had happened.

That is the way. I did not fight for myself. I fought for the people of Tamil Nadu. If something happens to me, the people of Tamil Nadu should rise in my defence. Everybody wants me to do so many things, and they just want to watch as if it is a cricket match. What is the press doing now?

I think they are exposing the present government too.

They are not. When the DMK came out with a poster of Chandralekha and asked for votes in a constituency where she herself was a candidate, did the press expose that?

But many newspapers are exposing the government.

What? They are not. They are quaking in their boots! You are all scared. You have no guts to publish anything against this government.

But it was during Jayalalitha's time that people were really scared. Now it is not so.

That must be because her underlings did it in a crude way. This is far more dangerous. It is easier to find your enemy who is right in front of you. But not one who is hidden behind the bushes.

You said she tried to murder you 12 times. Is she really that mean?

I don't know. I have not discussed these matters with her.

But you did feel that way about her?

It is possible that people around her who have left her now, may have tried to do all that. When in power, they become extraordinarily lonely. They do not know what is going on. For example, Indira Gandhi did not know how many people were arrested during the Emergency. She told me, she did not know. There were two attempts to murder me then, one in London and the other in Boston. But she said she never knew about it.

How does Jayalalitha appear to you now?

I have not met her that often to answer this question. She strikes me as an extraordinarily intelligent person. She grasps things fast. She has a temper, there's no question about that. Right now, we have cordial relations.

Will it continue?

I don't know. If the press people don't spoil it, it will continue.

But why should the press spoil it?

When you people twist, put words in our mouth, what can we do? When the press twists something around, if affects many people around us too as it goes back and forth. Media power is quite substantial that they can create anything. From day one, you people ask me, how can you go with Jayalalitha, how can you go with Jayalalitha? In the last one year, I have been asked only this one question. Why? Because you people are hellbent that she and I fight again.

That's not right at all. I don't think the press wants you two to split.

Otherwise, why do you ask the same question again and again? None of you do any work. All you do is ask this question. All you want is a fight.

No, you are wrong. Everybody asks this question again and again because you two were fighting fiercely earlier.

K Karunanidhi So what? What do I do now? Stand alone and get wiped out and help Karunanidhi remain in power? This is not only your problem. It is a cultural problem. We are people who can't get together. Some 15,000 Englishmen ruled this country for 100 years because they were able to divide and rule. You are part of the same culture.

I don't think anybody was trying to divide the AIADMK and your party.

What else were they doing? Why don't you accept that?

Because that is not the truth.

You could accept the DMK-TMC. But you cannot accept us.

So many papers called the DMK-TMC alliance also opportunistic.

You might have, then. Are you asking it now? Nobody is asking them about the Jain Commission.

No, everybody is asking the same question.

G Moopanar Nobody! I don't see it in the papers. Anyway, what this country needs is a coalition culture. People should be told their objectives. In this coalition also, we have differences. But we have a clear-cut objective, that the DMK-TMC government must be defeated. If we have a coalition culture, the country can improve. Germany is ruled by coalition. Israel is ruled by coalition. Italy is rule by a coalition. Except England and United States, practically all countries are ruled by coalition governments.

But hasn't the coalition experiment failed in this country?

So what? We learn by experience.

The Subramanian Swamy interview continues