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Confident Stalin predicts 2004 repeat

Drawing similarities between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims about winning 400 seats and the ‘India Shining’ campaign run by the party in 2004, and breaking his silence on the Jaffer Sadiq drug scandal and the court cases against his ministers, Chief Minister MK Stalin opens up.

Confident Stalin predicts 2004 repeat

CM Stalin

Q: In the last few years in office, your government implemented many promised schemes and also, new schemes. What’s your pet project? What were the high and low points of your tenure?

A: For a mother, all her children are special. Likewise, all my schemes are special and important to me. The first signature I inked after assuming the office of the Chief Minister was for Vidiyal Payanam offering free bus travel to crores of women. Every woman can save up to Rs 800/month. More importantly, it has increased the social participation and contribution of women. Likewise, 1.15 crore women have obtained financial freedom through the Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai Thittam under which Rs 1,000/month is disbursed. When we announced the scheme, the Opposition criticised that it would remain unfulfilled. But I was determined to implement it, despite the severe financial crunch. My dream project is ‘Naan Muthalvan’ scheme. We’re making educated youths eligible for all jobs by augmenting their skills and individuality. The Puthumai Penn scheme, which provides Rs 1,000 each to government girl school students pursuing higher education, has ushered in a massive resurgence. Obliging the male students, we’ve now improvised and expanded the scheme to boys through ‘Tamil Puthalvan’ scheme. We’ve diversified the noon meal scheme through the Chief Minister’s Breakfast Scheme. It feeds 17 lakh students daily before they start their classes. I’m immensely satisfied by the sight of it.

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Q: Can we expect more such schemes like the CM’s breakfast scheme, which was not promised in the DMK manifesto, in the rest of your tenure?

A: The AIADMK regime left the State economy in tatters. In 3 years, we’ve rectified and improved it to the extent possible. The BJP-led Union government has been meting out step-motherly treatment to TN in devolution of our tax share and allocation of funds for schemes, forcing us to face severe fund crunch. Nonetheless, we’ve been developing the necessary infrastructure of each district and implementing schemes like the CM’s Breakfast scheme. I’m confident that the situation would change and the economic situation would improve after May 2024. Welfare schemes would continue. More new schemes are on the cards.

Q: The non-allocation of funds for CMRL Phase-II and flood relief by the Union government has severely strained State’s finances. Tangedco’s losses have further burdened the exchequer. Has the GoI’s approach affected the State’s capacity to design new schemes or sustain existing ones?

A: The basic rights and financial resources (autonomy) of Tamil Nadu, among many states, have been snatched away during the 10-year BJP rule. The AIADMK regime had surrendered to the oppression of the BJP regime by subscribing to the UDAY scheme and allowing NEET into TN. It has severely affected the financial situation of the State. We’ve been rectifying it since our ascension to power. The Union government did not allot due funds for anything, including Metro Rail and the recent floods. However, my government will continue to mop up additional financial resources and execute schemes to protect our people and create the required infrastructure for them.

Q: It is even alleged that in the name of fiscal prudence, the Union government is blocking Opposition parties from fulfilling their poll promises. Do you suspect that the imposing conditions or delaying funds is to mount pressure on the parties opposed to the BJP?

A: The BJP is keen on snatching away the rights of states. In fact, it does not want State governments to even exist. We can understand their neglect of the people of the non-BJP ruled states from their description of BJP-ruled states as ‘double engine sarkar’. Their sheer neglect of Tamil Nadu continues because they are aware that they can never form the government here. By creating a situation where it would be difficult to fulfil their poll promises, the BJP intends to criticise the regional parties in the electoral campaign. It would end up a sheer miscalculation. The people here will not vote for the BJP. They know that the vote they cast for the BJP would spell disaster for TN’s growth.

Q: Neither PM Modi nor the BJP have responded to your request to clarify as to which central schemes your government had stopped in Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, the PM has called DMK a ‘dynastic’ and corrupt party again…

A: Generally, members of other parties utter lies and engage in some misinformation when they criticise us. But, people holding high offices like the Prime Minister don’t engage in such acts. At least leaders of the nation from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh were like that. But PM Modi and his functionaries engage in misinformation and disinformation, and spread rumours through WhatsApp. Some BJP functionaries are doing it full time. When we question, they don’t answer. They misdirect to other rumours. They do not respond when we ask which Union government scheme the TN government shelved. Whether it’s the PM’s Housing Scheme and Jal Jeevan Scheme, my government has executed them well with enhanced contribution and even won central awards. From the PM to ordinary BJP functionaries, everyone is aware of it. Hence, they engage in the diversionary tactics of calling DMK dynastic and corrupt.

Indeed, I’m Kalaignar’s son. I am his ideological heir. People have elected me CM with that faith. What answer does the PM and his party functionaries have for the heirs in the BJP’s candidates list? The true face of the BJP has been exposed by the Rs 7.5 lakh crore irregularities unearthed by the CAG report and the funds raised by the BJP through the Electoral Bonds. What is their answer to it? It’s the practice of the BJP to engage in corruption legally.

Q: Did the cases against former ministers Senthilbalaji and Ponmudy, and the High Court verdict in the case against your cabinet colleague I Periasamy affect DMK’s image?

A: It’s politically motivated. The Supreme Court stayed the conviction and sentencing of Minister Ponmudy. The Electoral Bonds scam has exposed that the Enforcement Directorate has transformed into an agency intimidating and pacifying opposition parties. It could be easily construed that Senthil Balaji is being politically targeted. We’ll legally overcome any attempt to denigrate the fame and public goodwill for the DMK regime.

Q: Modi has also lauded the past governments of MGR and Jayalalithaa… What do you think is the political undertone of his appreciation?

A: Modi and Shah called Jayalalithaa’s tenure corrupt earlier. Now, those same leaders are being lauded. BJP has no achievement to brag about in Tamil Nadu. BJP cannot paste stickers on the achievements of the DMK regime and appropriate the political ideology of Anna and Kalaignar. Hence, they invoke MGR and Jayalalithaa.

Q: The BJP and AIADMK have been criticising the DMK, especially after the arrest of drug smuggler Jaffer Sadiq who was a former DMK functionary. Leader of Opposition Edappadi Palaniswami insists that you must respond to the issue as the Chief Minister. AIADMK held a human chain against drug prevalence in TN under your reign. BJP alleges a link between Jaffer Sadiq and DMK senior leaders. How do you respond to the charges?

A: Palaniswamy ran a government in such a way that his minister and the DGP were directly indicted in the Gutkha Scam. Circulation of ganja among other drugs became rampant only in his regime. The whole nation is aware of the nature of the ganja and heroine cases booked during the Jayalalithaa-regime. The human chain organised by EPS’ party was an election stunt. Various statistics suggest that the BJP-ruled Gujarat is the drug capital of the country. EPS levelled the same criticism recently. These two parties only contributed to drug prevalence. Law has taken its course in the case of Jaffer Sadiq. We would seek legal recourse if people slander against the DMK.

Q: Equally intriguing is the PM’s frequent visits to Tamil Nadu recently. Never in the last 10 years has he visited here so frequently, not even during the 2014 and 2019 LS polls. Is it because he seriously eyes electoral prospects for the BJP here or doubts his chances of victory in his northern stronghold states?

A: Public dissatisfaction and frustration at the appalling failure of the 10-year regime of Modi is evident across the country. It will reflect in the election results. Tamil Nadu and other states echoed it in the previous Parliamentary polls even. Can the Prime Minister truly tell the people what good work he did for Tamil Nadu? Every time he visits, Modi will remind the misdeeds of his own regime.

Q: The BJP is claiming exponential growth in Tamil Nadu since 2021. A few surveys, which gave a complete sweep for the INDIA bloc in TN, have predicted BJP-led NDA’s vote percentage to rise close to 20%? Has the ‘Lotus’ gained some roots in Tamil Nadu?

A: The BJP intends to construct an illusionary image. The election results will tell us if the Lotus will bloom or fall.

Q: Parties opposed to the INDIA bloc are gravitating towards the saffron party more than the AIADMK. BJP claims it is due to its growing strength…

A: The criticism would be targeted at the Union government since it’s a Parliament election. Hence, we’re highlighting the betrayal meted out by the Union government to Tamil Nadu more. At the same time, we do not fail to point out how the AIADMK supported the BJP’s betrayal.

Q: What are the chances of the INDIA bloc in the Hindi heartland where the BJP swept the polls in 2019, and that too after the exit of Nitish Kumar and Jayant Chaudhary from the INDIA bloc?

A: The BJP ran a similar campaign in the name of ‘India Shining’ during the 2004 Parliamentary Polls. Surveys also endorsed them, and predicted a pro-BJP wave in the northern states. The opposition was criticised for not being united. However, the election results were in favour of the UPA, and the regime continued for the next 10 years. The results of the 2024 election would replicate 2004. History will repeat.

Q: Finalisation of seat numbers among INDIA bloc parties in the north, mainly in UP, Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, MP, Haryana and Goa have inspired confidence. But, has the INDIA bloc done enough to challenge the BJP in its strongholds where the communal agenda is said to be dominant, mainly after the Ram Temple consecration?

A: Your question suggests that the BJP’s attempt to completely destabilise the INDIA bloc has not succeeded. Communal politics is the fundamental ideology of the BJP. It might be the poll ploy of the BJP to convert the people’s bhakti into votes. But, the public is aware as to what extent the BJP has destroyed the values like secularism, plurality and state rights. INDIA bloc will do its duty of exposing it firmly and clearly in the poll fray.

K Karthikeyan interviews CM Stalin

Q: In West Bengal, TMC leader Mamata Banerjee has announced candidates for all 42 seats. After JD (U) and RLD, has INDIA bloc suffered the exit of another major partner, especially since it happened immediately after Mamata’s meeting with the Prime Minister in Kolkata?

A: I emphasised in the very first meeting of the INDIA bloc how the seat-sharing formula must be in tune with the popularity of the political parties in each State, and that the regime change at the Centre could be achieved through total victory in the states. That a few political parties adopt an approach in accordance with the local political contours of the State is inevitable. Those parties having the capacity to convert the public anger against the BJP into votes are in the forefront in the electoral battle in many states.

Q: After the recent five state Assembly poll defeat (except Telangana), do you think the Congress has risen up to the BJP’s electoral challenge in the Hindi heartland?

A: We’ve seen in many elections how the verdict of the people changed between Assembly and Parliament elections that took place in a few months’ gap. We’ll see more of it.

Q: Some were highly critical of Rahul Gandhi going on Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra when some of the INDIA bloc parties were exiting the alliance. Your opinion?

A: Rahul Gandhi is a leader who inspires confidence. He expresses not only political views, but also social views with courage. His contribution on the field will be needed a great deal.

Q: Did the INDIA bloc get its act together a tad too close to the elections? Do you have enough time and momentum to sway the voters in your favour?

A: INDIA bloc has been executing its action plan. Efforts are on to also coordinate it. You will behold the answers to the question in the poll campaign.

Q: A day after you finalised the seat-sharing deal with the VCK, its deputy general secretary faced an ED raid. Shiv Sena, Congress, TMC, SP, RJD and SP leaders in other states also faced such raids of late. Even TMC’s assets were frozen by ED in a case. Even influential DMK leaders faced such raids in the past. The PM and BJP call it a crackdown against corruption. What influence will the issue have on the voters? Will it even be an election issue?

A: Everyone knows that the ED, CBI and IT raids are targeted at non-BJP ruled states and political parties opposing the BJP. The BJP functions like a washing machine that wipes off the corruption charges and offers them positions in the party and the government once they defect to the BJP. The BJP’s mask has been ripped off by the Electoral Bonds, which have revealed that several firms that were subjected to ED investigation had generously donated to the BJP within a few days of the raids. It has been confirmed that the Modi regime has (mis)used the ED only to intimidate political parties and companies and through that received hundreds of crores. The people have realised that the BJP is the real corrupt party.

Q: In TN, you have successfully concluded the seat-sharing agreement with your allies. This time the DMK seems to be contesting a few seats less than 2019. Did the DMK compromise a lot to accommodate allies?

A: We’ve demonstrated in the 2019 and 2021 elections that this is not an electoral alliance, but an ideological one. It continues now. Seat sharing and symbol issues have been decided by respecting the sentiments of allies. It’s a continuation of a healthy alliance. Total victory in all 40 constituencies, including Puducherry is our mission.

Q: There were reports that you would reduce the tally of the Congress this time, more so after their recent performances in the north. But you chose to allot them 10 seats. Why?

A: Some speculation could have been reported as news. We cannot overlook all factors on the basis of a few election defeats. The Congress is a national-level party fighting against the BJP. We have allotted seats in accordance with that.

Q: There is a perception that DMK was too generous in seat sharing talks. Also, DMK seems to be keen on contesting the challenging seats. Was it a strategy to leave it to the DMK to do the hard miles?

A: Allies trust the DMK. And, we respect them. DMK is also wary of ground reality. The seat sharing is only a manifestation of reality.

Q: The DMK party is facing criticism over Thirumavalavan’s VCK not getting a general seat. Was there an issue in allotting a general seat to the VCK?

A: Members of the VCK have contested and won from two general constituencies in the Assembly Elections and they continue as MLAs now. The decisions were made after elaborately discussing the current election scenario and poll fray. Thirumavalavan has elaborately clarified it.

Q: DMK youth wing secretary and minister Udhayanidhi Stalin publicly requested you at the Salem conference to give chances to the youth wing in the Parliamentary polls. Will the youth wing get increased representation?

A: The DMK candidate list would be an all-encompassing one with representation to seniors, youngsters and women.

Q: The sudden resignation of Election Commissioner Arun Goel has raised many doubts about the state of affairs in the Election Commission of India. Opposition parties allege political pressure and differences within the ECI. Doubts are raised about the independence of the ECI ahead of the Parliamentary polls. Pls comment…

A: We’ve seen in the last 10 years how the BJP regime has been in the habit of converting all independent institutions into its puppets. The influence the BJP regime exerts on the ECI is no exception either. We’re keeping a close tab on it in our struggle to safeguard democracy.

Q: The recent Supreme Court order in the Electoral Bonds case has restored public faith in the judiciary. But, the response of ECI and SBI to the order has raised doubts about the integrity and independence of institutions. What’s your take on that?

A: The Supreme Court is the last hope of the people of India. Attempting to ignore its verdict and delay the enforcement of its orders are unconstitutional acts. The BJP, which had promised to recover black money stashed in Swiss banks and deposit Rs 15 lakh in each citizen’s account here, has not recovered a single paise. Instead, it has become evident that the BJP regime abused its power, collected several thousand crores from several firms, and attempted to deceive even the court.

Q: Your party was also among the beneficiaries of the Electoral Bonds. The BJP has been conveniently citing it to deflect criticism. Did the DMK lose its leverage on the issue?

A: DMK has been mobilising election funds since its first election. Anna set Rs 10 lakh as election fund target during 1967 elections. Kalaignar collected Rs 11 lakh then. It’s usual for the DMK to collect funds and properly audit such collected funds. We’ve collected funds through electoral bonds in the same transparent manner. The credentials of the BJP, which has been blaming DMK and other parties, and who it pressurised to mobilise election funds, are worth examining. The BJP has been caught red handed.

Q: A sitting BJP MP from Karnataka (Anantkumar Hegde) has publicly called for ‘rewriting’ the Constitution. He is not the first from the saffron party to make such comments. Do you foresee a threat to the Indian Constitution?

A: If the BJP returns to power again, it will discard the Constitution. He has only publicly stated that. What other reason is required to defeat the BJP?

Q: The ensuing Parliamentary election is believed to be fought on an ideological plane. What do you think would be the issues that would influence voters?

A: The false promises of the BJP, its betrayals, conspiracy to divide the people and threats it poses to state rights would fit into whatever you said. It will echo in the poll fray across the country.

Q: The BJP has notified the laws of the Citizenship Amendment Act after five years. Some say it’s a diversionary tactic, some call it a poll ploy of the BJP to polarise the voters. Is CAA the secret weapon of the BJP?

A: The CAA, which is a part of BJP’s divisive politics, might appear only to be against minorities now. But, in future, the BJP will bring new laws targeting people speaking different languages in each state. CAA is only a precursor to it.

Q: You’ve reiterated that you will not allow CAA to be implemented in Tamil Nadu. Even the chief ministers of Kerala and West Bengal have made such claims. Can state governments stop the CAA and NRC?

A: The State governments have the authority to enforce the laws enacted by the Union government. Perarignar Anna implemented the two-language policy against the Union government’s law related to Hindi. The State government did not accept economic criteria-based reservation legislated by the Union government. Likewise, we’re firm in our stand on CAA. We’ll establish our Constitutional right through courts on the issue.

K Karthikeyan
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