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|February 23, 1998|
Moopanar, circa 1998, comes out swinging
N Satiya Moorthy
"She has spoken about the Rs 20 billion Indian Bank scam, she has said that Moopanar and Chidambaram are the ring leaders. If it can be proved that I was involved in the scam, I shall quit active politics."
The voice is flat, monotonic. There are no soaring highs or shrewdly timed diminuendos, no tricks of oratory, even the rhythm of delivery is staccato.
Yet, the applause is deafening.
And you wonder just how much this applause has to do with what has been said, and how much with the speaker -- G Karuppiah Moopanar, to give him a name.
Moopanar appears to have finally arrived as a politician. Thus, where earlier his campaign style was tame, he now shows himself ready to take on challenges hurled at him, to hurl a few gauntlets of his own in turn.
"There is a vast difference in his campaign style between this time and the earlier occasions," concedes a political aide of the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) supremo. "Earlier he skirted issues, never took anything personally even when his political opponents sought to defame him. But not any more -- now, he answers criticism, and issues his own challenges, he is now prepared to meet the battle head on."
A remarkable transformation. And remarkably strange, in a politico whose image is that of a non-controversial leader who has held, over the years, that there never is anything to gain by criticising others, that the only consequence of that is to lower your own stock in the public perception.
"But this is different, it is a different kind of political enemy we are facing," explains the aide. "Wins and losses everyone faces in their political career, but the AIADMK-BJP alliance, along with the MDMK and the PMK, can rewrite the political history of Tamil Nadu. If their alliance wins, then the only explanation will be that all is fair in war, and politics."
For all his mildness of manner, Moopanar is seasoned enough to know where the weaknesses are. And in his combative new avtaar, he is not averse to plunging the stiletto in where it will do the most good.
"At one time, Gopalswamy (chief of the MDMK), Ramadoss (of the PMK), Subramanian Swamy (of the Janata Party) and Vazhappadi Ramamurthy (former state Congress chief) all used to be staunch critics of Jayalalitha, calling her corrupt and what not, they were her strongest critics. But now, for a few seats, they have compromised their principles and joined hands with her. And look at Jayalalitha herself -- she was among the first to condemn the BJP as communal in the wake of the Ayodhya demolition, now she has joined them.
"Is this a principled alliance?" Moopanar harangues his audience. "NO!" comes the predictable response from those in the front rows -- who, being hardcore TMC-DMK cadres, would respond in the negative anyway.
Even the Coimbatore blasts appear to have left Moopanar unfazed, and unwilling to abandon his new aggressive posture. "Opinion polls had given us 35 seats, at the outset. Then, they predicted that we would win over 32 seats. In other words, we were clearly having the upper hand. Now, I do not know whether the blasts were caused by fundamentalists, or whether it had anything to do with those who had not want to see the DMK-TMC alliance win," he said, less than 48 hours after the blasts, at Marthandam in the communally-sensitive Nagercoil Parliamentary constituency where the TMC and the BJP are locked in a no-holds barred contest.
"The blasts should be thoroughly probed," Moopanar told his audience at Nagercoil, where he stopped fresh from a tour of the blast hit areas of Marthandam. "It was a horrendous sight," he added, shuddering apparently at the memory of what he had witnessed. "Even the hospital was not spared, and that was a particularly inhuman act. Whoever has done this, whether the minorities or some other group, they should not be spared, they deserve the highest punishment possible."
"The Coimbatore blasts had shocked the state and the people at large," said David Edward, a school teacher and self-confessed TMC sympathiser. "Our family used to be traditionally Congress-minded, and we were worried about the impact of the blasts on the election scenario. But by coming out to campaign the very next day, and also doing his duty by visiting Coimbatore, Moopanar has helped restore the confidence of the people, the DMK-TMC cadres in particular."
And what of Moopanar's new-found aggro on the campaign trail. "Yes, that is definitely something new," he says. "By referring to film star Rajnikanth's television interview, and asking the people to vote according to his wishes, Moopanar has conveyed his message very clearly."
As may be recalled, Rajnikanth did more than hint that the AIADMK-BJP-led alliance in the state had a hand in the blasts.
From a Rajnikanth, that statement sounded like rabble rousing rhetoric. The impact, when it comes from Moopanar, is however far deeper -- simply because the public perception of the TMC heavyweight is of a man not given to making such sweeping statements.
In Tenkasi, where the TMC's candidate and federal minister M Arunachalam is locked in a neck and neck battle with the AIADMK, Moopanar justified the DMK government's imprisoning of former chief minister Jayalalitha on 'justifiable charges'. And at Sivaganga, he was all praise for Federal Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Industry Minister 'Murasoli' Maran.
The former is the TMC nominee at Sivaganga, and addresses the voters along with Moopanar, while the latter is the powerful nephew-cum-strategist of Karunanidhi.
"The entire world is all praise for Maran and Chidambaram," Moopanar says. "We have to feel proud about them, instead of throwing mud for partisan political reasons," he says, adding that Jayalalitha's attempts to drive a wedge between Karunanidhi and himself would not bear fruit.
"There was no question of Karunanidhi and the DMK not supporting my prime ministerial candidature last year, as I was not in the race anyway," he says.
None of which is to say that the TMC is coasting. "We have a tough battle on hand," says the Moopanar aide. "But Ayya's visit has improved the position, particularly in some of the constituencies considered weak for us.
The sticky wickets for the TMC include Arunachalam's Tenkasi, and Tiruchendur where Federal minister Dhanushkodi Adithan is contesting. So also Nagercoil and even Madurai, where the party nominee is locked in battle with Janata Party president and Moopanar's bete noire, Subramaniam Swamy.
"Take it from me," says Chelladurai of the AIADMK, at Sivaganga, "It is the TMC that will lose more seats than the DMK, whatever be our own tally in the company of our alliance partners. And if the TMC has to find the cause for its defeats, it has to look to its leader."
Chelladurai runs what, in modern jargon, would be called a direct marketing operation -- more prosaically, he sells saris door to door and has, in course of his work, visited pretty much all the southern districts of the state in the last month. "One thing I found is that Moopanar's indecision over the choice of candidates has contributed to the current plight of some of the TMC nominees, who were even otherwise considered insipid and indifferent. Thanks to the delay, they have been left with less than a fortnight's time for electioneering. And this could make the crucial difference to their prospects."
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