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'We gave BJP 20 seats though they wanted more'

By A Ganesh Nadar
March 12, 2021 14:24 IST
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'Your strike rate is very important when it comes to seat-sharing.'

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, left, and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, second from left, at the opening of the 'Thamilar Kulachami Amma' temple dedicated to J Jayalalithaa in Thirumangalam, January 30, 2021. Photograph: Edappadi K Palaniswami/Twitter
 

With four weeks left for the Tamil Nadu assembly election, the battle lines are clearly drawn.

There is the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Pattali Makkal Katchi in one corner.

In the other corner is the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress front that incorporates a few smaller parties.

And there are those parties that will fall under 'Others'.

Like actor turned politician Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam with allies.

Or T T V Dhinakaran's Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam which is in alliance with the All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen.

And others, within 'Others'.

They may spoil the scene for the two major alliances facing off, but everyone is clear come May 2, results day, it will be either the return of the AIADMK's Edappadi K Palaniswami-O Panneerselvam combine or the challenger DMK under M K Stalin.

"If Amma had been here, she would have taken the same call (to form an alliance with the BJP)," AIADMK Spokesperson Satyan Rajan aka Kovai Satyan tells A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com.

While campaigning in Kanyakumari, the BJP's Amit Shah predicted a coalition government in Tamil Nadu. Did he mean that the AIADMK won't get a majority on its own?

He said the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) would form the government. He is a national leader, at the national level that is the way they talk, the Congress always talks about a UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government.

In Tamil Nadu the AIADMK will form the government.

Is the AIADMK ready for a coalition government with its allies?

We will form the government with our own majority. All indications are in our favour. Our success rate is better than the DMK's.

The general perception is that your alliance with the BJP will cost you the minority vote. How are you going to deal with that?

That is the Opposition's narrative. This narrative is stale and rotten. We work for the benefit of the people. We have started 11 medical colleges. We have got the best infrastructure projects from the central government.

The Congress-DMK have nothing to show with their alliance. They cannot show anything.

But Amma never tied up with the BJP for the assembly polls, keeping them at arm's length. So what was the compulsion for EPS-OPS to embrace the BJP for the assembly polls?

There is no compulsion. There is constant change in the dynamics of politics. If Amma would have been here, I am very much sure she would have taken the same call. The interest of the people comes first.

We have various central government projects in our state to benefit the people. Affordable housing for the poor, interlinking of major rivers, modernising the ports for better exports and state of the art interconnectivity of roadways are some of the projects we have done. These benefited all strata of society.

The narration of polarisation of religion by the Opposition has fallen flat. It is a fake narrative. There are no incidents of tension among religions, there is no untoward incident.

The schemes launched by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami like desilting of lakes, ponds and water bodies has given tremendous relief to the farmers. Now we are water surplus. That includes drinking water. For the first time in history we requested Andhra Pradesh not to release Krishna water.

The delta region is now an agri-protected region. The government has implemented schemes for short term and long term benefits. Our grain production was 34 lakh (3.4 million) tonnes.

During the pandemic we reached out to the people. Fever camps were held all over the state. The balance between life and livelihood was maintained perfectly. We revived the economy cautiously. We have given packages for the small, medium and large scale industries.

If you look at the BJP's trajectory, they begin small in states where they have no presence, tie up with a major, and bide their time till they grow, ultimately replacing their ally as the major party.
Is the AIADMK guilty of giving the BJP such a chance in Tamil Nadu?

Our chief minister gave them 20 seats though their expectations were higher. The Opposition has given the Congress 25 seats, even though the Congress voter base has eroded. Everyone is a leader in the Congress.

The BJP works as a unit. Their hierarchy is well defined.

How badly will the DMDK walking out of the alliance affect you?

They believe that if they get more seats they are stronger. Actually, the number of seats you win proves your strength.

If you get five seats and win five, you are strong. If you get 50 seats and win five, your strike rate is low.

Your strike rate is very important when it comes to seat-sharing.

The key icon of the DMDK, Mr Vijayakanth, is not as aggressive as he was earlier. This will have a large impact on the cadre and the public.

It will not affect us. The loser is the DMDK and not us. His son is making immature statements, which shows lack of political acumen.

Even Sarath Kumar of the Samathuva Makkal Katchi has said that after being in your alliance for 10 years, you did not even bother to call them this time.

The doors are never closed. He could have come and met us at any time. He has forged an alliance with the Makkal Needhi Maiam and has got 40 seats. They don't have any common ideology with the Indhiya Jananaayaka Katchi. They dont have a common connect.

Will the Vanniyar sub-quota affect the votes of the other castes in the same bracket?

That is a wrong notion. The other communities are also within the reservation quota. There is no change in their share. We have not taken away anybody's share.

We have not taken up 10% reservation for EWS (economically weaker sections) because our 69% reservation is enough for everybody. The development of the people is assured.

You think the MNM-SMK-IJK will make a good impact on the Tamil Nadu voters? Kamal Haasan's party polled decently in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, at least in the urban seats.

I don't think Kamal Haasan has any chance. He doesn't have any clear ideology. They have not spelled out their ideology, what they are standing for? What they are fighting for?

They are not clear. They don't have a common ground. They are just trying their fortune.

What about Seeman's Naam Tamilar Katchi which has been around for 10 years and is contesting all 234 constituencies?

Seeman is trying to keep his unit together. You need cadres on the ground to work for you. Only making announcements to the media doesn't win elections. All these parties don't have any cadre at the grassroot level.

Only the AIADMK and the DMK have cadres at the grass root level. That is why elections in Tamil Nadu are bipolar.

Both you and the DMK will be without J Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi for the first time in decades...

Definitely they were crowd-pullers. This is a testing ground for both parties. The AIADMK is ready to form the next government with the political icon EPS who is our next leader.

Even for the DMK, they are waiting for a mandate from the people.

I am sure that EPS is the one who will fill the shoes of the tallest political icons.

What will be the impact of T T V Dhinakaran's Amma Makkal Munnetra Katchi tying up with Asaduddin Owaisi? Will it eat into the AIADMK votes?

The DMK thinks the minority is their vote bank. Now Stalin is posing with a 'Vel' (symbol of Lord Murugan). It is the DMK's idea that the AMMK should align with Owaisi and they have done it.

The allegation is that the AMMK is the B team of the DMK.

Pre-poll surveys are predicting a DMK win. What do you have to say?

In April 2016 survey said the DMK will win. Four surveys at that time said the DMK will win, but the AIADMK won. Surveys cannot predict the mind of the Tamil Nadu voter. We are still four weeks from election day.

Though VK Sasikala withdrew from politics, which is to your advantage, why didn't she ask her nephew Dhinakaran to not take part in the elections?

She was never in public life. She has never asked for a seat to fight elections. In her letter she has stated that she doesn't have political aspirations.

Dhinakaran operates on his own.

What do you think is Sasikala's real game plan? Is she waiting and watching, and if the results go against EPS-OPS, she will make her move?

The party has moved forward for four years. The leaders have proved their calibre. We cannot match up to Amma.

We don't consider Sasikala in that calibre.

Tamil Nadu is said to have a debt of over Rs 5 lakh (Rs 5 trillion) crores. You have promised Rs 1,500 a month to every home maker and six free gas cylinders to every household in a year. Is this economically feasible?

The GDP of the state has crossed Rs 20 lakh crores. Our borrowings are within the limits set forth by the RBI. The government runs on taxes.

Real governance is giving back to the people what we are receiving from them. We can afford to give Rs 1,500 every month and six gas cylinders in a year.

We have given eight lakh (800,000) beneficiaries one sovereign gold for their marriage. That cost a huge amount yet we did it.

During the pandemic we gave five months of free rations. We gave MSP to farmers who produced 34 lakh tonnes of food grains.

We have a very efficient financial management in place. On one side we attract investments and on the other we manage our resources.

During Covid times we received Rs 79,000 crores (Rs 790 billion) of investment.

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