Western T.N. no longer AIADMK citadel, says Stalin

‘People’s anger against the government will reflect in Assembly elections by way of support to DMK’

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly M.K. Stalin on Monday rejected the notion that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was strong in the western region of the State and that Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s hailing from the region would be a challenge to the DMK in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

“The argument that the AIADMK is strong in the western region was demolished in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It lost every seat by a margin of lakhs of votes there,” he said in an interview with The Hindu.

Countering the perception that the State government had done a decent job of combating COVID-19, Mr. Stalin charged that the Chief Minister had erred by delaying the imposition of lockdown, and in the closure of the Koyambedu wholesale market, schools, and TASMAC liquor outlets. According to him, it was the DMK that had launched an initiative to feed 1 crore people and provide medical facilities.

Charging that Tamil Nadu was lagging behind in development on all fronts, he said MoUs were signed by the government only on paper while there was no actual creation of jobs or revival of the economy. The State was wobbling under the weight of a ₹5-lakh-crore debt burden, the DMK leader said.

Insisting that he was prepared for a one-on-one debate with the Chief Minister on the corruption charges submitted by the DMK to the Governor, Mr. Stalin reiterated the condition that Mr. Palaniswami would first have to move the Supreme Court to vacate a stay on a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in a case against him. The people, he said, saw the AIADMK as “a ship without a captain” and its Ministers as “pirates”. He believed that there was a “tsunami-like wave” underway against the nearly 10-year-old AIADMK government. The DMK leader felt that the people’s anger against the government would reflect in the Assembly elections by way of support to his party.

People’s anger against AIADMK government palpable: Stalin

Mr. Stalin who is leading his party in an Assembly election for the first time, is confident of a sweep and forming the next government in Tamil Nadu this summer. In an interview with The Hindu, he accuses the AIADMK government of doing little during the COVID-19 pandemic, while he takes credit for the positive developments in Tamil Nadu.

Edited excerpts:

You have asserted that the DMK alliance would win in 200 seats in this year’s Assembly elections and the AIADMK would not qualify to become the Opposition party. What is the basis for your confidence? 

First I said we would win 200 seats. Now the prospects have increased for us in all the 234 constituencies. I am able to predict it from the active and voluntary participation of men and women in the Makkal Gram Sabha meetings organised by DMK frontline leaders and manifestation of anger and hatred against the AIADMK government that are palpable. TN is lagging behind in development on all fronts. The state could not attract any new investment after Mr Edappadi K. Palaniswami became the CM. No new jobs have been created. Fiscal management has encountered an unprecedented setback and the state is wobbling with the weight of Rs 5-lakh-crore debt. The administration is rampant with the corruption of ministers. They have continuously borrowed and swindled the amount. Even the CM was subjected to a CBI inquiry. He is continuing in the post because of the Supreme Court’s stay [on the inquiry] and not on moral grounds. 

It is a government that has signed Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) only on paper. It has not done anything to attract investment to boost the state’s financial health. In the last ten years, it has not been able to launch a power project and it is going to demit office without increasing electricity production by a single unit. 

Since survival is a day-to-day battle for the government, the CM is not able to guide the administration. He is not able to protect the rights of the state and challenge the threat to Tamil culture. Economic development has become a mirage. Farmers, workers, government employees, traders, students and all sections of the society have been affected because the CM lacks administrative capabilities. People are ready to give a send-off to the AIADMK government and I could see it in the Makkal Gram Sabha meetings. 

The DMK, which is steeped in democratic values, does not want an Assembly without an opposition. But the people’s anger convinced me to say that the AIADMK cannot secure the Opposition status. People have realised that TN is in the hands of a man, who does not deserve the position. The anger will rout not only the government, but also the AIADMK. People see the AIADMK as a ship without a captain and the ministers as pirates. 

This election is considered very important for the DMK since it is out of power for 10 years. What is your strategy? 

Whether in power or not, the DMK has always treated people as boss and the party is an integral part of people’s lives. It has secured a place in people’s hearts by highlighting their problems, offering solutions and speaking up for the rights of TN. 

As the leader of the Opposition, I have fought inside the Assembly and public platforms. DMK’s continuous actions have resulted in creation of the Cauvery Management Board, Cauvery Draft Scheme and 7.5% horizontal reservation for medical admission for NEET-qualified state government school students. It has fought against Salem-Chennai Expressway, Hydrocarbon projects and denial of Tamil option in Postal Department examinations. 

The fight against COVID-19 succeeded in the state because of DMK’s Ontrinaivom Vaa programme, which reached out to crores of people. People think if TN’s rights are safeguarded to an extent, it is because of the DMK. People’s support is the principal strategy. You will see other strategies once elections are announced. 

What have been the expectations of the people attending the Makkal Gram Sabhas? 

The problems raised by the people remain a proof that the AIADMK government is non-functional in the last 10 years. People express with anger that the government has failed to fulfil its promises and solve even basic problems. The CM and ministers have not used the government to serve the people. They are self-serving, promoting the development of benamis and relatives and have turned the clock back by 50 years in the state. The Makkal Gram Sabhas’ echo the people’s hope that only the DMK can offer a non-corrupt, transparent and democratic government. 

The CM has not resolved the problems of his constituency and fulfilled his promises. Ministers too have kept their constituencies in similar manner. If it happens to these constituencies one can understand the condition of other constituencies. 

In 2011, the AIADMK was voted to power because of its electoral performance in the Western Region. The CM is from the region. Would the DMK make inroads in the west? 

The western districts have borne the brunt of the AIADMK rule. Thousands of medium and small industries have been severely affected. Coimbatore, the Manchester of TN, is lagging in all fields. While the CM and ministers from the region have benefited, people have been left in the lurch. Municipal Administration Minister S.P. Velumani has swindled the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation. The Ministers have not brought in any constructive schemes. There is no specific plan to strengthen the region to develop the economy. People have not forgotten the sexual assault on young women in Pollachi and the government’s attempt to save the culprits since they belonged to the ruling party. 

The argument that the AIADMK is strong in the west was disproved in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It lost every seat by a margin of lakhs of votes. People in the region will vote taking into consideration the welfare of TN. When the DMK was in power it had worked for the development of TN and paved the way for the growth of big, medium and small industries in the Western region. That was why the people there handed the DMK a landslide victory in Parliamentary polls. It will continue in the Assembly elections. 

You laid down conditions for a debate on corruption with the CM. But he says you are finding excuses to avoid it… 

We have submitted a memorandum of corruption charges to the Governor with evidence against the CM and other ministers. The ministers have not denied it. The CM and ministers, who file defamation suits against me for every issue, have not done that this time. The World Bank rules have been violated in the tenders awarded to the CM’s [son’s] in-laws. The High Court ordered a CBI inquiry into it. The CM, who obtained a stay against the order, alone can withdraw it. He alone can grant sanction for cases against ministers and recommend action to the Governor. That is why I said I would be ready for a debate if the CM first does that and recommended to the Governor for action in the disproportionate wealth case against him. But he does not have the courage to get the stay vacated. He is afraid that the one-on-one debate would expose his corrupt practices. That is why he is finding excuses. I am ready to debate. 

There is an opinion that the AIADMK government does not face any strong anti-establishment wave even if there is no surge in its favour. It has succeeded in containing the COVID-19 spread. Your view? 

This is a false narrative constructed by reactionary and anti-DMK forces that cannot stomach the growing support for us. The state is gripped by a tsunami-like anti-AIADMK wave, ten-fold higher than what swept the state in 1991-96. That is why I say that the AIADMK cannot even qualify for the opposition post. This is echoed by the cry, “when will the government come to an end.” 

Who is saying that Mr Palaniswami has controlled COVID-19? He said in the Assembly that even one person would not be allowed to die because of the virus. But so far 13,000 people have died and eight lakh have been infected. In the first three months, he had no understanding of the virus. He appropriated money citing the COVID cases. People know all those shameful activities. The irregularities in purchasing equipment for testing became a laughing stock in the Delhi High Court. [It had capped the price of testing kit at Rs 400.]

There was a delay in announcing lockdown. When the DMK MLAs demanded it, they were ridiculed. The scam in the purchase of live-saving medicines also became a laughing matter. No CM in the country committed errors like him when it came to the closure of Koyambedu [wholesale vegetable] market, TASMAC liquor shops and schools, and confusions in awarding marks for students who had arrears. The DMK launched a campaign to feed one crore people and offer medical facilities. COVID-19 exposed Mr Palaniswami as a hopeless CM, who has no concern for the people. Election results will reflect this. 

(Concluding part of the interview on the DMK’s alliance strategy will be published on Wednesday.)

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