'The last four years was not Dravidian rule, it was BJP rule by proxy.'
Though the assembly election in Tamil Nadu was announced only last week, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M K Stalin have been in campaign mode for the last six months.
As always in Tamil Nadu, campaigning is a game of making bigger promises. It was Kamal Haasan of the Makkal Neethi Maiam who first said that home-makers should be given a salary. Stalin soon announced that he would give home-makers Rs 1,000 every month provided they had a ration card.
Palaniswami went one step ahead and announced that the government would give Rs 1500 every month to home-makers, and threw in six free LPG cylinders a year as a topping.
Such largesse, promised and real, is expected continue till the day of the elections, April 6.
Most of the alliances have been firmed up. Apart from the two main fronts led by the AIADMK and DMK, there is a third front led by actors Kamal Haasan and Sharad Kumar (which include smaller parties.
Also trying their luck at the hustings are the Seeman-led Naam Tamilar Katchi, which plans to contest in all the 234 constituencies, and the Amma Makkal Munnetra Katchi led by T T V Dinakaran which has tied up with Assaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen.
However, as always, the election is expected to be a two-horse race, between the AIADMK and the DMK fronts, with other parties having a limited impact in some parts of the state.
This election is important for a couple of reasons. It is the first without heavyweights J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi on the scene. Thus, it is also a charisma-less election in which hopefully issues more than personalities will matter.
For another, it is also the first time the BJP has tied up with a Dravidian major for the assembly election.
"A vote for the AIADMK is a vote for the BJP and the policies of the RSS," DMK spokesperson Saravanan Annadurai tells A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com.
Consensus is that Chief Minister Palaniswami has gone about administration in a quiet but efficient manner, and that the public is happy with the way the government has handled various crises, from cyclone to the pandemic. Given that, don't you think it will be tough to defeat him?
(laughs) He has not handled the administration in an efficient manner. During the pandemic the people were economically devastated. They were left out to dry. Our leader M K Stalin had demanded that every family should be given Rs 5,000, but the government gave only Rs 1,000.
After the Gaja cyclone he went on a helicopter ride. He did not get relief from the central government. We needed Rs 20,000 crores (Rs 200 billion) and we got Rs 500 crores (Rs 5 billion).
The Tamil Nadu government has a debt of Rs 511,000 crores (Rs 5.11 trillion). Last year alone they have borrowed Rs 60,000 crores (Rs 600 billion) which were used for useless tenders.
Your party president had undertaken the Ungal Thogudiyil Stalin movement, visiting all 234 constituencies. How was the response?
It has been a phenomenal response, especially among women voters. He got an opportunity to move with them, listen to their problems.
What are the issues facing the electorate this time?
There are a lot of issues. It is about the future of Tamil Nadu -- a unique Tamil Nadu, or a Tamil Nadu that will be homogenised with the rest of the country?
A vote for the AIADMK is a vote for the BJP and the policies of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).
The AIADMK has betrayed the aspirations of the youth of Tamil Nadu. This is a fight for the soul of Tamil Nadu.
As an election devoid of personalities, unlike in the past, how do you see the campaign being different this time, with both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi not there?
Every leader has his own way to reach out to the people. Our leader M K Stalin has already led us to an extraordinary victory in the 2019 parliamentary election.
Your party performed so well in the 2019 parliamentary election winning 38/39 seats. But what happened in the assembly bye-elections to 22 seats where you could have toppled the government, but failed to do so?
That is because the electorate wanted to keep the BJP out in the parliamentary elections. In the assembly bye-elections we did win a majority of seats, but it was not enough to change the government.
Even in the panchayat election both parties were almost equal, you could not carry forward your Lok Sabha wave. Why?
We won most of the panchayat seats. And they are not fought on party symbols.
The DMK is known for its strong cadre base, then why do you need a professional like Prashant Kishore to guide you?
These days elections are also fought on digital media. Our cadre is involved in roadside meetings, door to door canvassing and elections rallies and meetings. Prashant Kishore has been brought in to handle digital media.
How do you compare Edappadi Palaniswami and M K Stalin?
Edappadi Palaniswami is an accidental chief minister. He continued being subservient to the BJP just to stay in power.
Our leader M K Stalin has always been in the forefront in fighting for the rights of the people of Tamil Nadu. You can see his track record as mayor. Traffic does not come to a standstill in Chennai because of the flyovers he built.
His tenure as deputy chief minister was also spectacular. He is responsible for bringing the Metro rail project to Chennai.
Why did you give the Congress only 25 seats when reports say that Rahul Gandhi was drawing large crowds in Tamil Nadu?
We have an electoral strategy. That strategy was to contest a minimum of 180 seats. That is why we gave them 25 seats.
How important will allies be in the election?
We have always respected our allies. We are used to rainbow alliances since 1967. We know their importance. Our allies are very important to us.
Do you think the practice of distributing money for votes will continue in Tamil Nadu?
It is the Election Commission's duty to stop this practice. The Election Commission should not dance to the tunes of the ruling party.
This election is very important for the DMK as you have been out of power for 10 years.
Every election is important to us. This election is not only important to the DMK, it is also important to the people of Tamil Nadu. It is an election to save the soul of Tamil Nadu.
Will your target be the CM or the PM?
Both are creating problems for Tamil Nadu. Every vote for the AIADMK is a vote for the BJP. We will be criticising both.
Now that V K Sasikala has opted out of politics, the expected vote break-up of the AIADMK vote will not happen. Plus, the Pattali Makkal Katchi with its transferable votes is with them. Aren't these advantage AIADMK in the election?
Sasikala is always a liability to the party, within the party or outside the party. She is a symbol of the corruption in the party in the past regime.
The BJP made a lot of noise about contesting 60 seats but settled for 20 seats. Doesn't this show that EPS and OPS are firmly in charge of the AIADMK's affairs?
The BJP created a bogus argument for 60 seats. Then the AIADMK gave them 20 seats and are claiming victory.
Every seat for the AIADMK is a seat for the BJP. The last four years was not Dravidian rule, it was BJP rule by proxy.
Will Stalin's son Udayanidhi contest the election? Won't his entry into electoral politics justify the charge of dynastic rule against the DMK?
You will know about that in a couple of days.