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|February 19, 1998|
The Rediff Election Interview/K V Thangabalu
'If the bomb was planted by somebody other than the BJP, they would definitely have killed Advani'
It was by default that K V Thangabalu became president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, with the exit of both G K Moopanar and Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy from the party. He became a wellknown figure after Sonia Gandhi decided to start her campaign from Sriperumbudur, since pictures of Thangabalu walking her to the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial were flashed everywhere. But the question is, will it help the Tamil Nadu Congress in any way?
It is well known that the party is a mere shell now. Moopanar even walked away with the original party office, Satyamurthy Bhavan, when he started the Tamil Maanila Congress and the TNCC was left with no building for some time.
In a conversation withShobha Warrier, Thagabalu defends his party president Sitaram Kesri's charge that the RSS caused the Coimbatore blasts.
Who do you think is behind the Coimbatore blast?
We suspect both the BJP and the RSS.
The state government has banned the Al-Umma and Jihad Committee suspecting their hands behind it. What do you say about it?
That is the perception of the state government, not ours.
Many others also allege that it is the handiwork of Muslim fundamentalist organisations. What do you say about that?
Had they been behind the blast, Advani would not have escaped. Please believe that we do not want anything to happen to Advani. We feel that no leader should get hurt. No civilised person would accept this kind of a gruesome act. At the same time we condemn such violence in very strong words.
Why do you think that the BJP and the RSS are behind the serial blasts? It was targeted at their own leader.
They want to get sympathy out of this issue. If the bomb was planted by somebody other than the BJP, they would definitely have killed Advani. Because it was planted by them, they purposely delayed Advani's meetings. The timing was very cautiously planned so that all his programmes were delayed and he reached there late.
Nobody except the Congress has accused the BJP. Home Minister Indrajit Gupta also spoke about a foreign hand.
That is their perception. Remember, the RSS is also famous for their bomb culture.
It is alleged by many that the state government knew about this earlier itself, but was callous in their attitude. Do you feel that way?
I don't think any government would ignore such knowledge.
It is again alleged that the DMK government is soft on Muslim fundamentalists.
I don't want to comment on that. It is the government's perception. They can act as they feel. Now the issue is, innocent people should not be subjected to such hardships.
Will it have an impact on the polls?
Nothing. Actually they are scared about the emergence of Sonia Gandhi and her popularity. They want to divert the attention of people.
Do you feel the BJP has gained some sympathy because of the blasts?
They are trying to get sympathy out of this, but they will not. They are resorting to such gimmicks because they want to check the growth of the Congress. For that, they are playing with the lives of innocent people which should be condemned. They want to come to power at any cost, but we will not allow it.
You have been travelling to the interiors of Tamil Nadu after Sonia's visit. Do you find any difference in the attitude of Congress workers now?
They are very pleased and happy. I will say there is a total regeneration and rejuvenation in the Congress itself. All the Congress workers now want to see her as prime minister.
Does that mean the workers were not happy at all during P V Narasimha Rao's and Kesri's time?
No, not at all. See, several times Kesri himself said that 'madam' should take over the reigns of the party. Both Rao and Kesri had been supporting the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. And we are all supporters of the Nehru family, I mean the Gandhi family, Rajiv Gandhi's family.
Why is it that the Congress depends so much on this one family? Why is it that no young leader is coming up in the Congress? Is there not a dearth of leadership in the party?
There is no dearth of leadership in our party. There are quite a few very good leaders, very senior, seasoned leaders, available in our party. But the fact remains that Madam Gandhi's family, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, made the supreme sacrifice for the unity and integrity of the country. Nobody can question that. One has to understand and accept the fact that they are the supreme leaders. They are known, popular figures not only in the country but all over the world too. That is why people are inclined to be with the leadership of the family.
The criticism against the Congress is that you are projecting a person who is not Indian-born. How do you react to it? The other day Jayalalitha also talked about projecting a foreigner as the leader of the oldest party in India. Can't you find an Indian when we have 970 million Indians in this country?
I am sorry to say the question should not have come from you at all because you are all educated people. Sonia Gandhi is an Indian today and she has every right to rule this country. If you are calling her a foreigner, your mind is not working in the right way. Once she was married to Rajiv Gandhi, once she came to India, she became an Indian. Have you seen her way of life?
She is much more Indian than an Indian. You cannot even dream of calling her a foreigner. And she is accepted by the people of this country and the party workers.
When did you know that she was going to campaign for the party and that too from Sriperumbudur?
See, she cannot be separated from the Congress at all. She has always been with the party and its affairs. She has been doing exemplary work in co-operation with Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. Her association with the Congress started long, long ago and she has always been with us.
I was not asking about her association, but about her decision to campaign. When did you get the message from her?
The Congress leadership requested her to campaign for the party and she graciously obliged.
Were you there with Kesri when he made the request?
Yes, all of us were there under his leadership. Everyone of us had the same opinion.
When did she tell all of you that she has decided to start the campaign for the party from here?
On 8th morning I was told that she was coming here on the 11th.
That left you with a short time to make all arrangements.
So what? Here everybody was excited and people came voluntarily to see her. See, this is the party's strength. The Tamil Nadu Congress could mobilise such a huge crowd in just three days. My first appeal to her was to start campaigning from Sriperumbudur where Rajiv Gandhi attained martyrdom.
So, you decided the venue.
It was my request to her which she accepted and we are very grateful to her.
Are you happy with the number of people who attended the rally? It was the lowest compared to all the other places.
In two days's time, we mobilised these many people. Can any other party do that? More than a lakh people were there. More than 3,000 vehicles came from all over the country. Her motorcade moved step by step from the samadhi to the ground. That was the kind of upsurge that we saw there. The entire ground was full. Its capacity was 80,000. Outside the ground, more than 20,000 people were there. The road from Madras to Sriperumbudur was full of people. The entire village people were outside.
So many people whom I met at Sriperumbudur were of the opinion that Sonia Gandhi entered the field very late and she wouldn't be able to make any difference.
That observation is very wrong.
What kind of impact will her presence have at the national level in this election?
There is a great enthusiasm and upsurge among people to see and hear her. And the Congress is going to win and form the government without anybody's support..
You expect an absolute majority?
Thumping majority. Without any difficulty, we will get that. And, my party president has very clearly said that she is going to be our prime ministerial candidate. That has added 30 to 40 per cent boost to our support. So, it is going to be 100 per cent support to the Congress. Now people are happy that she is going to be our next prime minister.
But she is saying everywhere that she will not accept any post.
See, she is such a great soul that she does not want to become anything. When the country needed her help, her leadership, she magnanimously agreed and responded to the call of the country.
Why do you say the country needed her leadership? It is the Congress which pleaded with her and not the country.
Our country needs a good, strong, vibrant leadership for a better governance.
At Sriperumbudur, many people said she joined politics to pave the way for Priyanka. Do Congressmen also feel that way?
Priyanka is like our daughter. She is our child. She has grown up now. Didn't you see the affection people showered on her? If the family of Rajiv Gandhi wanted to come to politics, nobody could come in the way. It is the wish of all Indians to see the family in power.
Now that Sonia Gandhi has opened the lid on Bofors, do you think it could boomerang on her?
Nothing. Others are trying to fool people about Bofors. Nothing is going to happen. V P Singh said he would reveal the names within fifteen days of his coming to power. Where is the guilty? Five prime ministers came after that. Nobody could find out anything.
But your party, the Congress was supporting the governments. The Congress may have prevented the governments from revealing the names. Ottavio Quattrocchi's name is there in the CBI chargesheet also.
How can you say that? You can talk about any name. But we say that no name from the family is there. We have nothing to do with the other name. I was one of the members of the JPC on Bofors. I know much more than anybody else. Nobody can point their finger at this family.
Alladi Aruna was there in the JPC. But he said, fingers pointed to Rajiv Gandhi.
If they can prove anything, let them. They could not prove anything so far. All those allegations were to tarnish the image of the family. The DMK was in power for 18 months. Why didn't they prove anything?
Again, they were there with the support of the Congress.
They have filed cases against Narasimha Rao, tried to take him to jail. They did all the mischief to the Congress. They could have done mischief in this case also but could not. Why?
Why is it that Congress does not mention the Jain Commission report? This UF government was pulled down because of the report.
We did not pull down the government. They themselves pulled it down by their notorious act of keeping the DMK with them.
Not a single person from the DMK was convicted by the designated court in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case. How can you say the DMK was involved in the assassination?
It was on the basis of what the SIT has submitted to the court that the judgment came. SIT itself mentioned the hostile witness, V Gopalasamy who was a DMK MP then. Is it not the indictment of the DMK? He was secretary of the party at that time. Can Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi or anybody deny this? Nobody can. It is clearly said that Gopalasamy's hand is very much there in passing messages and supporting the LTTE.
If the Congress comes to power, will you dismiss the DMK government?
We respect democracy. We will do what is good for the country. Let us come to power and then think of that.
Will the Congress and the members of the UF come together if there is a hung Parliament again?
I said, only a Congress government will come to power.
There is no ifs and buts now. We are hopeful that we will come to power on our own.
This election came about because the Congress and the UF could not work together. When you have such a background, will you two come together after the election?
Anything can happen in politics. There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics.
Will the TMC join the Congress after the election?
We will see. Anybody who likes the Congress ideology, anybody who accepts our leadership is welcome.
Do you miss a leader like Vazhappadi Ramamurthy?
He is not a leader. He is an opportunist. People who left the Congress are opportunists. What are they minus the Congress?
What do you say about the decision not to give an election ticket to P V Narasimha Rao?
He refused to answer the question.
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