July 17, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/G K Vasan

'I do not believe in bargaining'

When the late G K Moopanar walked away with a substantial number of Congressmen from Tamil Nadu in 1996 to form the Tamil Maanila Congress, little did he know that one year after his death, the TMC would merge with the Congress and cease to exist.

The TMC had split from the Congress protesting against the decision of the then Congress president, P V Narasimha Rao, to ally with the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The TMC went on to join hands with the DMK -- with the blessings of cine star Rajnikanth -- and won the assembly election with a thumping majority.

The relationship between the two parties, however, became strained when DMK chief M Karunanidhi decided to align with the Bharatiya Janata Party and join the National Democratic Alliance in 1999. And when Moopanar decided to support the AIADMK in the last assembly election, it marked the end of the TMC ideologically. Ever since its return to the Congress fold had been imminent. But Moopanar's failing health put the merger on hold.

When the party patriarch died ten months ago, TMC leaders elected his son G K Vasan -- till then an unknown -- as their president. It was rumoured that Vasan became the choice because there were too many aspirants for the post.

After Vasan took over, a series of consultations with Congress president Sonia Gandhi led the way for the TMC's merger with the parent organisation. Excerpts from an interview granted by the Rajya Sabha member to Shobha Warrier:

The party started by your father G K Moopanar will cease to exist on August 14. What was in your mind when you came out of the AICC office to announce the decision to merge with the Congress?

After my father's demise, I was asked to take up the post of president of the party. Ever since, I have been taking the views of all senior leaders of the party and the cadres too. I have been maintaining the same contact with the All-India Congress Committee also. I would say my relationship with the Congress is exactly the same as that of Mr Moopanar.

We came to the decision to merge our party with the Congress after a lot of consultations with all senior leaders of the party and the cadres.

Remember, even during his last days Mr Moopanar was talking about a united Congress party in Tamil Nadu. His ambition was to bring the Congress party to power and bring Kamaraj rule back in the state. So I was only completing his wish. And, that was exactly what I had in my mind.

Do you feel sad that there will not be a party called the Tamil Maanila Congress now?

On the contrary, I was happy that I could do what my father wanted to do. I knew I was doing my part in a proper way.

Did Mr Moopanar tell you anything about the merger before his death?

No, he didn't tell me in so many words. [But] everybody knew what he had in his mind. By everybody I mean the senior party leaders and the cadres. Everybody knew the kind of relationship he had with the Congress, the respect that he had for the Congress president and the Nehru family.

If you remember it, Moopanar was the person who was authorised by Sonia Gandhi to talk for the Congress party when he was president of the TMC. So it is a very well-known fact that he was all along with the Congress. Nothing has changed. Everything continues the way Moopanar wanted.

The TMC was born in 1996 when the Congress chose to go with Jayalalithaa. So, when your father decided to support her in the last election, ideologically, the party ceased to exist at that very moment. Why do you think it took him so long to take a decision on the merger?

In the last assembly election, the AICC itself authorised Mr Moopanar to negotiate for the Congress party in Tamil Nadu, and that shows in what direction everything was moving. At that time, yes, there was no talk of the merger. The discussions centred on the assembly election. But everybody knew then that it was only a matter of time for the TMC to merge with the Congress because an all-India party like the Congress wanted Mr Moopanar to talk for it. I would say that was the beginning.

Unfortunately, his health started failing after the election. I feel his failing health might have upset all his plans.

You were never in the limelight when your father was alive. But after he passed away, the party made you president. Were you a reluctant leader?

I had all along been working for the party, but silently. Everybody in the party knew what I was doing. I had been working not only for the TMC, but for the Congress too. I worked for the Congress from 1984 onwards, but without making any noise about my work. To me, it was duty first and publicity next.

So, when the senior party leaders asked me to head the party, I agreed. That was because I really wanted the TMC to rejoin the Congress one day. After all, that is where all of us belong.

I am sure I have done my duty well. I have fulfilled the wish of my father.

Several TMC leaders are telling the press these days that it was a blunder to have made you president. They say the TMC did not gain anything from the merger.

I don't think those reports have any validity. I had consulted all the party leaders and the cadre before taking the decision. So the party is totally with me. But I cannot talk for one or two persons, I can only talk for the party. So, I think I should not comment on the views of one or two persons.

G K Vasan It was also reported that after the merger, you would become an AICC member and S R Balasubramaniam would be leader of the Congress party in the assembly. The complaint of some of the leaders seems to be that nobody else from the TMC gained anything from the merger.

Let me tell you one thing. It was not my personal decision to merge the TMC with the Congress. All the senior leaders were there with me in Delhi, and all of them aired their views to the AICC president. I was one among them to talk to her. We told her what we wanted for the party, but the final decision would lie with Madam Gandhi. Ultimately, she is the person who will decide.

Then why are partymen talking against you to newspapers almost daily?

As long as the media is there, such reports are bound to appear. This is not new for any party.

But some of your leaders are expressing their discontent to the media...

Let me make myself very clear. My party seniors are with me. I am holding regular meetings with them and we are working together. So I can reply to the allegations only if those people come out openly and talk. Otherwise, how can I react?

Will you be an AICC member after the merger?

The AICC president is the final authority to take a decision. Whatever she decides will be final for everyone, and that includes me. A rumour is always a rumour.

So you are denying the reports...

I am just telling you the facts (laughs).

What did you negotiate for the party?

There was only one issue; that the Congress should be strong in Tamil Nadu. We wanted to go back to the parent party to strengthen the hands of the AICC president. We would like to see her as the prime minister of the country.

At the same time, all Congressmen want Kamaraj rule here in Tamil Nadu. These are the two goals, and we have come together to achieve them.

In this merger, a big party, a party with more elected members and more cadres (in Tamil Nadu) is joining a small party, the Congress. How will the equation be after the merger?

The AICC secretary has already said that due respect will be given to the Tamil Maanila Congress, and we believe that. Everybody knows the strength of the TMC in Tamil Nadu.

It was also reported in the papers that you didn't want to antagonise Sonia Gandhi and hence did not bargain much.

I do not believe in bargaining or demanding. Never in his political career did my father bargain for anything. I am only following his footsteps. I think honesty will pay ultimately.

Design: Dominic Xavier; Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

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