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March 9, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/G K Moopanar

'From our side, supporting the Congress is the only option'

Realism could well be another name forG K Moopanar, president of the Tamil Maanila Congress. Although his party, in league with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam lost the election from Tamil Nadu very badly, he is rather philosophical about the poor show. Victories and defeats are part of the game, is the attitude he conveys.

Things were not so bad for the combine, he feels, and it was the Coimbatore blasts that changed the picture drastically. It led to the electorate believing that the DMK was soft of law and order, combined with which came in the anti-incumbency factor and the BJP's trump card in the form of A B Vajpayee.

In a conversation with Shobha Warrier in Madras, Moopanar defends the United Front's decision to back the Congress's efforts at government formation. It is not as if the BJP has a majority, and if the BJP can seek support from the Telugu Desam, what is amoral about the Congress turning to the UF, he asks.

Did the election results come as a shock to you?

It is true that I did not expect this kind of a result. At the same time, I knew this election was not going to be like the last one when we swept the polls. I was sure of losing some constituencies. I thought we (the DMK) would be somewhere between 15 and 20. I thought they (the AIADMK front) would get only 10 to 15 seats. But the bomb blasts changed the whole scenario. We were able to see the change in the electorate after the bomb blasts.

Are the bomb blasts the only reason why you lost so badly?

The bomb blasts is one reason. The anti-incumbency vote also was there, it is always there. Then their slogan about stable government at the Centre also affected us. You must have seen all the newspapers predicting all the time that 41 per cent wanted only Vajpayee as prime minister. Naturally, after seeing all that, the people would vote only for the winning party.

But the opinion polls also predicted a clean sweep for the DMK-TMC front.

I really cannot understand how they came to such a conclusion.

You never felt it was going to be a sweep?

No. I thought our front would get only 25 to 27 seats. So, I was surprised at their prediction. They said 54 per cent would vote for us! I couldn't believe that. Now it is for them to find out how and where they went wrong.

Do you feel people felt sympathetic to Jayalalitha? So many villagers, especially women, told me that it was wrong on the part of the DMK government to arrest her and put her in jail. They also did not approve of them showing her saris and sandals on television.

There might have been some who felt that way. But I do not think it affected the results in a big way. I will attribute two-three things for our bad showing. One is the Coimbatore blasts. Two, the stability slogan of the BJP and third, the anti-incumbency factor. Anti-incumbency was there everywhere. Even the BJP lost heavily in Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The Congress lost in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh etc. The anti-establishment mood was there in Karnataka and Kerala also. The only state which was not affected by the anti-establishment wave was Punjab. Yes, Delhi also was not affected.

It was widely reported that the DMK government had prior information about the blasts but did not take proper steps. Is it true?

It doesn't make sense. Terrorist activities and fundamentalist activities are there (in the state) and they know about it too. But they might not have got information about the actual blasts. I will not say that they did not act even after getting the information. I am sure that they might not have got the right information. There was a failure in the system, somewhere.

After the blast, even the uneducated sections of society have started talking that the DMK is soft on Muslim fundamentalists. What is your reaction?

That impression is there, I know. It all started with the DMK combine talking about the minorities's problems. They never talked about the problems of the others, the Hindu communal forces. Then the bomb blasts took place in Coimbatore. After that, everyday the newspapers came out with pictures of seizures of bombs and other things from various places. Naturally the people felt, what was the government doing all these months?

Do you feel that the DMK government was soft on Muslim fundamentalists?

I don't think so. Any fundamentalist can create problems for the country. Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, and whichever group they belong to, whether it be Hindu, Christian, Sikh or Muslim, they behave the same way.

Then how did this kind of an impression spread everywhere?

Because they were arguing for the minorities. And when news about weapons and bombs being hidden inside houses, underground, etc was published in all the papers, it gave the impression that the DMK government was closing its eyes to the activities of Muslim fundamentalists.

All the members of the UF government lost heavily this time,except perhaps Chandrababu Naidu who was not defeated that badly. Do you feel people were punishing the members of the UF for forging a post-poll alliance in 1996 when the mandate was not for them to rule?

I don't think we were being punished. It was the slogan of 'stability', which I told you earlier, that was the only reason. We changed the prime minister not once but twice, and they wanted a change again for the third time. So, people felt the UF would not be able to form a stable government at the Centre.

From the election results, is it not evident that people did not approve of post-poll alliances?

Didn't we have a pre-poll alliance among ourselves this time?

Don't you feel you were punished for what you did last time? Like it happened to people like Vaghela and Mayawati.

I don't agree with you at all. The BJP had a pre-poll alliance. Why didn't people give a clear mandate this time, tell me. They did not give a clear verdict even now.

This election came about because the Congress could not get along with the United Front. Now after the election, when the BJP and its allies have 250 seats, is it morally right on the part of you two to come together again?

It is a question of arithmetic now, isn't it? If it is morally not right, why can't they form the government? It all depends on plain arithmetic. The party which has the right arithmetic will form the government.

But the United Front government was pulled down by the Congress. Then how can you support them now, after the country has spent so much money on the election?

Is it morally right on their (BJP's) part to ask for support from the Telugu Desam? Is it morally right on their part to accept the support of Chautala group?

But the election became a necessity because the Congress pulled down your government.

Secular forces were divided then. They are trying to come together now. That's all.

They should have done so before the election.

That was not possible then because of the difference of opinion.

Some Congress leaders are talking about secularism and saving the country from communal forces. But didn't the people give the BJP 250 seats?

Did they get a majority to form the government? No. What does that mean? If they have got the mandate of the people, why do we have a hung Parliament? Hung is hung, that is the truth. Who gets the number, is the point now. Will the BJP say 'no' if I offered them support?

Will you?

No, that's a different matter. See, if I offer my support, they will not say 'no' even if we opposed each other. Is it morally right? What I want to say is, morality should be the same for all. How can they accept the support of Chautala? So, what is the mistake in others trying to come together? If morality is not there, it is not there for all parties (laughs). I don't say that this is correct and this is wrong. It is pure arithmetic.

That way, the BJP and its allies have the maximum number while the Congress and the UF are far below.

It is not enough for the BJP to form the government. It is not enough for the Congress, and it is not enough for the UF too. But why should we provide majority to the BJP?

Does that mean another election?

The BJP will have to decide that now.

In places like Kerala, West Bengal, etc, the Congress and the UF fought against each other.

I totally agree with your argument. But my question is, why should the BJP accept the support of Chautala now? They fought against each other there. They fought against Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra. If that is right, what we do is also right.

Coming back to the TMC, during the election campaign you said you were not happy with the work of the cadres in some places.

I was not fully satisfied or happy with the work of some of them. I felt that they should have taken some more care, some more work. We will have to train them now.

Were they over-confident because of the kind of mandate you got the last time?

Not over-confident. They were confident. They might have had the feeling that this time also it would be very easy.

Will you be with the DMK all the time, or are you thinking of the starting TMC as a third force apart from the two Dravidian parties?

That question does not arise now.

So, the DMK-TMC alliance will continue.

What is there to fight now? Let us see. When the situation comes, we will think about it. Not now.

I talked to a lot of villagers recently. All of them seemed to be very frustrated with politicians. They said politicians visit them only during the election to ask for votes. After that, they just disappear from the area.

I will tell you one thing. Some of the complaints have no meaning at all. How do you expect a MP to go and rectify a drainage problem in a village?

It was a general complaint against all politicians, and not directed at MPs alone.

As I was campaigning, some villagers tried to stop my vehicle. I asked my driver to stop. I asked them, what is the matter? They said, we are going to vote for you only. But we have to tell you our views and problems too. I asked them to tell me their problem. They said, we have no water. Our drainage is not working. You come only during the election. After that, nobody helps us. Then I told them that it was not our job but the job of the local panchayat to clear all those problems. Was it possible for a member of Parliament to come and see the repair work of a drainage?

But the anger is generally against all politicians.

I can understand, I can understand. Now that we have a panchayat, it is their duty to look after all this.

Don't you think something has gone wrong somewhere?

See, when those villagers complained about the non-availability of water, I talked to the panchayat president. He said, they have already been provided with water taps in each street. But what the villagers want was a water connection inside their house which was not possible at all as the panchayat did not have enough funds.

Don't you think the frustration was because they were given a lot of hope by the political leaders?

Yes, that's the reason. Expectation is too high. To get votes, they promise even the moon. That is the problem.

Politicians, when they talk to the people, are not realistic at all.

Yes, they are not realistic at all. I always tell the truth. Not all can adopt that method. Most politicians feel that their responsibility ends after getting the votes. It is but natural that people are disappointed with politicians.

About Sonia Gandhi. Contrary to all expectations, the results show that she did not have an impact on the electorate.

I don't agree. If she had not campaigned for the party, the Congress would have fared very poorly.

What about the number of seats? Narasimha Rao as the Congress president also brought as many seats.

Now, it was only because of Sonia that they could manage this much.

But the number of seats has not changed from what Narasimha Rao won for the Congress in 1996.

But has it gone down? If not for her, it would have gone down to 100.

But what happened to all the crowds that attended her meetings?

She came very late on to the scene. She was not holding the organisation. Selection of party candidates was not her responsibility. She only campaigned for the party.

Don't you think there is something deficient in the Congress party that they fall back upon this one family all the time as if they do not have any good leaders?

Tell me, why did so many people went to listen to her, to see her? It is not only the party but people also look at the family differently.

But it was not converted into votes.

That is a different matter. That is the defect of the organisation. Wherever they had good organisation, they could carry the message to the people. Soniaji attracted crowds but the party did not capitalise on it.

Film stars like Amitabh Bachchan or Rajnikanth also may get these kind of crowds. So, they might have gone to see her, just out of curiousity?

I can understand the crowd going to see a cinema star. But she is not a film star. She is an ordinary housewife. Why should they go to see her?

She is a housewife from the Gandhi family. One of the negative points pointed out by people like Jyoti Basu was that she was only a housewife who does not have any experience in politics.

I don't agree with the viewpoint that she has no experience. Had she not entered the scene, had she not campaigned, the Congress would have lost badly. They would not have even crossed 100 seats.

Do you feel if they had projected a young Indian leader, the party would have fared better?

The fact or reality is that only this family can lead the Congress. Reality is reality. You have seen it for yourself.

Will the TMC merge with the Congress?

That idea is not there in our mind at all. We have got our own identity now.

What do you foresee happening in Delhi?

I do not know how the BJP is going to get a majority. They have to compromise on their ideology to do so. I don't think they can form the government. The UF also cannot. If at all anybody forms a government, it will be the Congress.

Will you be a part of the Congress government?

We have to sit down and discuss that.

Whom will the TMC support?

From our side, that (supporting the Congress) is the only possibility.

The criticism against the Congress is that they cannot accept defeat and they cannot also sit in the Opposition. Madhavrao Scindia has also said that they should learn to sit in the Opposition.

Both Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also sat in the Opposition. So, it is nothing new for the Congress to sit in the Opposition. Anyway, it is a confused picture that is emerging at the Centre.

Is it good for the country?

What can you do now? See, the people of Tamil Nadu voted for stability at the Centre. If Maharashtra and Rajasthan too voted like that, this kind of confusion would not have arisen. Now they have voted for a hung Parliament. Earlier I thought the BJP would get 280 to 290 seats. Sonia's entering the scene changed all that. Now the picture is very confusing, that's all I can say. Very, very confusing.

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