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February 18, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/P Chidambaram

'Politics has broken up statewise'

P Chidambaram Palaniappan Chidambaram, the outgoing finance minister, is almost certain to return to the Lok Sabha, but whether he will guide the nation's economic destiny again remains to be seen. Taking time off from his hectic campaigning in his constituency, Sivaganga, deep in the Tamil heartland, he spoke to Ayaz Memon:

What is the issue for the Tamil Maanila Congress in this election?

For us, it is the fight between two regional parties with different ideologies and approaches. The AIADMK is a powerful party with a corrupt leader who has mortgaged the interest and self-respect of the Tamils to the BJP. The TMC, as it did 18 months ago, strives to protect this interest and self-image.

That's very parochial. What about the national level, where the BJP and Congress both claim it is a battle for stability?

There is no real issue at the national level. Politics in the country has broken statewise. In Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh too, local issues are predominant. It means that regional parties are becoming strong national forces.

You were an integral part of the Congress till recently and also very close to Rajiv Gandhi. What do you make of the 'Sonia factor' in the election?

Well, one has to admit that she has had an impact all over India where the Congress exists organisationally. But it will be difficult to translate this impact into votes where the organisation of the party is poor, as in Tamil Nadu.

In case if Sonia Gandhi or the Congress still makes a claim to form the government, would the TMC support her?

I have no personal view on this. It is something which my party leadership will decide.

In spite of having been very close to the lady and her party?

I have no comments on that except that it will be a party decision.

Will the bomb blasts in Coimbatore alter the poll arithmetics in Tamil Nadu?

It is too early to say anything except that we (the TMC-DMK alliance) condemn the bomb blasts, and also that is cannot be forgotten that this kind of religious extremism was first started by the Sangh parivar in 1992. Today some other organisations have taken to the same self-destruction role, which is tragic. But people in this state know that the DMK and TMC are secular and condemn all forms of religious violence. The eventual sufferer is society.

The rise of the regional parties has also given rise to coalitions at the Centre. Is that good for national politics?

Is there a way out? I think states like Tamil Nadu have realised that they have to look after their own interest, they cannot be taken for granted. Once that happens, they (and the regional parties that come into power) will play a crucial role at the Centre. There is no escaping that.

Which brings us to the United Front. Given the fractious nature of this alliance in the past, what do you except in the future?

It must be understood that the United Front is not a predetermined party but a post-election phenomena. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, the UF is TMC-DMK, and elsewhere it is something else. As I see it, the UF will have to regroup after the election depending on the results.

To move away from the election, as finance minister who is not so to speak, how do you view the recent problems in Southeast Asia and the immediate problems in Indonesia? Do you think this shows that liberalisation has not been a worthwhile exercise?

On the contrary, we (in India) should liberalise or we will be worse off. The point is, along with liberalisation we must have effective regulatory agencies. The crisis in Southeast Asian countries occurred because they did not have enough regulatory agencies.

And finally, everywhere in your election campaign one hears of the support of superstar Rajnikanth. How do you feel taking help from film stars who may not understand politics at all?

What's wrong with getting Rajnikanth's support? He has a lot of following amongst youngsters, which is good for the alliance.

How is this different from the BJP or Congress using films stars as vote-catching gimmicks?

Well, there is one essential difference, Rajnikanth has no political aspirations. He is just supporting us in the belief that the alliance will deliver the goods for Tamil Nadu.

Is this realpolitik or plain desperation?

Neither. He is a friend of Mr G K Moopanar, and for the last three years, he has been my friend too. His support is based on genuine bonding, genuine friendship.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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