DMK’s women’s wing secretary and Thoothukudi LS seat candidate is confident of bringing change both at state and Centre with by-elections being held for 22 Assembly seats simultaneously with the general elections
Though you are a two-time MP and secretary of DMK’s women’s wing, this is your first LS election and that too after your father’s demise. Also, you face the state president of the BJP. How do you pace your campaign?
I have worked on a number of election campaigns for the party, but this is the first time I am fighting it as a candidate. My experience – of nearly 12 years – as a Member of Parliament has prepared me well for handling issues concerning the state. Also, as the secretary of women’s wing, I have been actively involved in women’s issues. Most recently, in Pollachi, the DMK was instrumental in bringing the horrific incidents of 200+ sexual abuse and rape cases to light. Our campaign, across the state, has been able to highlight the colossal failures of the BJP and AIADMK governments. With by-elections for 22 Assembly seats being held simultaneously, we are confident of bringing change at both state and Centre.
How much of a disadvantage it is to not have Kalaignar around when the narrative of a Lok Sabha election is hyper nationalism versus secularism?
It is difficult to explain as the loss is also personal. He has shaped the last 75 years of Tamil Nadu’s politics and has left his imprints in every sphere. The sheer number and scope of legislative changes he brought over 19 years as Chief Minister is unmatchable. More than anything else, he has played an integral role in shaping the Dravidian Movement based on self-respect principle, abolition of caste and egalitarianism. Today, more than ever before, Tamil Nadu is grateful for this and we feel that it is this ideology that will help us face the upcoming elections.
There is a general perception that you have chosen a ‘comfortable’ seat, especially after the Sterlite issue hit the headlines. When did you set your eyes on Thoothukudi? And why?
Every seat is comfortable for the Secular Progressive Alliance because of the complete ‘misgovernance’ in the last five years. I have been working on issues in and around Thoothukudi since 2009, I am quite conversant with the place and the issues. The Sterlite issue is however more recent and the brutal killing of 13 protestors made me realise how authoritarian these governments have become. I was given an opportunity to address 80 grama sabha meetings in January and February this year. It was at that time I became connected with Thoothukudi. I thought about how much I could do for the place, if elected and I’m glad my party has given me that opportunity.
While there is no denying that presence of a high-profile candidate of your stature will bring more attention to a predominantly rural segment like Thoothukudi, how do you overcome the criticism of the Opposition that you are an outsider to the constituency?
I think it is laughable that those who are making such allegations are from parties which have worked against the interest of Thoothukudi and Tamil Nadu at large. I have been working in Thoothukudi since 2009 and have taken up a place here in Kurinji Nagar. I look forward to being elected and working with my fellow residents of Thoothukudi.
Do you have specific development plans for Thoothukudi? Can you state categorically that you are for permanent closure of Sterlite?
DMK leader Thalapathi (MK Stalin) has said that we will pass a special legislation to permanently shut down Sterlite and the DMK will not support any polluting industries. We are the only party which has announced this.
Will that not make DMK appear anti-development? What would be the first poll promise you would honour if elected from Thoothukudi?
Not at all. One cannot look at development only from the prism of big manufacturing industries. There is much to be done in the agriculture based industries. In Thoothukudi, the matchstick industry, kadala mittai (peanut candy) manufacturing units along with thousands of small and medium scale enterprises need to be revived from the economic onslaught of GST, demonetisation and poor political leadership.
The AIADMK has been accusing DMK of allowing Sterlite to operate during the 1996-2001 tenure. The ruling party is claiming credit for the recent SC order setting aside National Green Tribunal order on reopening of Sterlite. How do you counter that?
AIADMK, a benami of the BJP government, has no locus standi to speak on Sterlite. It was the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa that allowed Sterlite to open in Tamil Nadu and today, the present Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is directly responsible for the shooting which has killed 13 persons on May 22, 2018. The AIADMK has also no answer with regard to the disappearance of Mugilan, an activist, whose work has indicted the government in creating and manufacturing the commotion that led to this brutal shoot-out. Let the AIADMK first speak on these issues and deliver justice to those who were killed by their own government.
Unlike most other DMK candidates, even caste colour was given to your candidature and choice of constituency? How does Kanimozhi the ardent Periyar follower respond to such charges?
The futile efforts by the BJP to colour this contest using caste shows their ineptitude in facing these elections. They have all but given up on Thoothukudi and the rest of Tamil Nadu. It is not surprising though as they are also known to use religion to create divisions in the country. As far as I am concerned, we do not believe in caste and my own choice of Thoothukudi is based on my work here over the past 10 years.
The DMK has also been criticised for having fewer women candidates. As the women’s wing leader of the party and a staunch feminist, did you take it up with your party leadership? Will you push for better representation in future?
Most parties have fielded lesser women candidates and that is why the DMK and I have been constantly pushing for Women’s Reservation Bill to be passed. Now that the Congress has also supported this, I hope that the day is near when we have at least 33 per cent women in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies.
Your main opponent Tamilisai Soundararajan has been raking up the 2G case during campaign though you were acquitted in the case. How do you overcome that criticism of the AIADMK-BJP front?
It shows a paucity of ideas on the part of my opponent. It also reveals that the AIADMK – BJP front, suffering from double anti-incumbency, is beginning to sound like a broken record. Both BJP and AIADMK have nothing to show for their years in government and have to, therefore, resort to such baseless charges. As everyone knows, I have been completely acquitted in 2G cases. I invite my opponent to go through the 1500+ pages judgment to better understand the issue.
Talks of your becoming a cabinet minister have been doing the rounds since your first stint as Rajya Sabha MP. Can we expect a ministerial role for you in the event of the DMK-Congress combine forming govt?
I am grateful to the party for giving me this opportunity to contest the Lok Sabha elections and at the moment, I am focussed on delivering on the promises raised by the voters of Thoothukudi. There is a great deal that I would like to do for the constituency. However, I am always open to any responsibilities that my party and leadership give me.