Chennai: Actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth may be down due to health issues, but he is not out. Tamil Nadu politics still revolves around 'Captain' as he is popularly known, affirms his pragmatic brother-in-law and deputy general secretary of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), launched at Madurai in 2005, L. K. Sudhish. A graduate in English literature from Pachaiyappas College in Chennai, he has 'Dravidian politics' in his pedagogy, and simultaneously eyes a national role for the DMDK the way he intonates, “I am directly in touch with Amit Shah(BJP's national president)” with a smile and a glint in his eyes at his modest office in Vadapalani in the city.
Shortly before an exclusive interview to DC, Sudhish okayed the new cloth samples of DMDK's party flag with a visible pride and quip, “after the DMK and AIADMK, we are the only recognised regional party in Tamil Nadu,” and contesting in their own 'Damaru' symbol in the four constituencies allotted to DMDK in the new NDA alliance for the April 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Excerpts from the Interview:
Are you happy with the seats allocation in the AIADMK-led NDA alliance?
We are happy for all the four LS constituencies allotted to us - North Chennai, Kallakurichi, Tiruchirappalli and Virudhunagar- are among the seats that we precisely wanted to contest. We asked for seven seats and got four, but getting a higher number and saddled with seats which we don't want is again unpalatable. So, that way we are happy.
But there was so much delay, the usual suspense before inking the deal?
No, there was no delay. As early as January first week, I had issued a statement that we are going with the BJP. And before Captain went to U.S. for treatment, he appointed a five-member committee headed by me to talk to alliance parties. So I have been speaking to Amit Shah as BJP leads the NDA at the national level. Then he asked me to speak to Piyush Goyal; it was Goyal who later told me that in Tamil Nadu, “we (BJP) are part of the AIADMK alliance and that I should talk to the AIADMK.” The AIADMK said, “we are leading the alliance” and they were already talking to other allies in the NDA here, constituents in the 2014 LS elections. So, we started talking to the AIADMK late; what upset our cadres was when AIADMK suddenly in February third week signed seat-sharing agreement and allotted seats to PMK and BJP. In 2014, all the constituents of NDA including DMDK, PMK, MDMK, KNDK, IJK (MDMK, Kongu outfit and IJK are now part of DMK-led alliance) and Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) led by Dr Krishnasamy, all signed the agreement at the same time; But this time it did not happen that way and this was disappointing, created a communication gap, more so because we led the NDA in the State in 2014 LS elections, contesting 14 constituencies.
But what prompted you to also explore DMK alliance?
It was during that 'communication gap' DMK telephonically contacted us; it was Durai Murugan and few others who spoke to me, wanting to know whether the DMDK would like to tie-up with DMK. We have a right to speak to each other and Durai Murugan and I are from neighbouring villages in Vellore district, long-time friends. But the final decision is always taken by Captain.
Where did the talks with DMK fail, did you pitch your demands too high?
We asked for seven seats, but that didn't come right; also the constituencies we asked were not on offer. We also said we will support the BJP government (after the elections) and we are for Modi (as PM). They (DMK) waited for four days (hoping the mood will change), but that was the breaking point (we backing Modi as PM).
But when Prime Minister Modi launched the NDA campaign in Chennai on March 6, you (DMDK) gave it a miss, giving the impression it is a bandaged alliance, stitched in desperation post the eleventh hour?
No, it is not a bandaged alliance. There was only a time gap. In fact, before Mr. Modi reached Chennai that evening, the DMDK negotiating team led by me met Mr. Piyush Goyal to inform that it would not be in order to bring Captain to share the dais when the number of seats and constituencies for DMDK was not finalized.
So how did you reconcile with this too little deal?
We told the BJP that DMDK will give full support and after the elections, they have assured to compensate (for the less number of seats), which I cannot disclose now. May be, if we had started talking earlier to the AIADMK, we may have got a better deal!
How is the chemistry of the new NDA in TN now? After 2014 results, you complained that PMK votes did not transfer to DMDK though Captain toured all the 40 constituencies, campaigning for NDA?
Last time, PMK came very late into the alliance; Anbumani was himself a candidate and he could not tour all the constituencies; this time there is better rapport from the leadership level down to the cadres from the beginning. And yesterday, Dr Ramadoss called on Captain and there is good coordination now. We are hopeful of winning all the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
What about Captain campaigning this time, owing to his health? Will he just come around like a Smiling Buddha for NDA?
No, Captain is no mere Smiling Buddha for the NDA. His health is improving and he will not only tour the constituencies, but also address meetings. There may be one joint rally, but DMDK will campaign individually, including my sister and party treasurer Mrs. Premalatha and myself.
And your campaign plank against Stalin and Rahul Gandhi?
We will say why vote for a front which is not going to win and waste your votes? There is no equivalence to Narendra Modi as a PM candidate. We will also push for Captain's dream project to start more Trade Centres in the districts, to give a push to rural jobs creation, cottage industries and marketing. The other issue will be to strengthen agriculture. We will ensure Tamil Nadu's voice is heard in Delhi. I have applied to re-contest from Kallakurichi, but Captain will decide.
But DMDK's own vote-share has been declining over the years?
No, there is no slide in our vote-share. You are referring to the ten per cent-plus vote-share dropping to five per cent-plus, broadly. But the comparison is strictly not valid as DMDK first contested all 234 Assembly seats (in 2006) and then we contested 41 seats (as part of AIADMK alliance in 2011). Again 2016 Assembly poll was very different, as the third front 'Makkal Nala Kootani' had projected Vijayakanth as its Chief Ministerial candidate, an honour to Captain.
So has Captain missed the political bus in TN, making DMDK the angry party now, more so since his ugly faceoff with Ms Jayalalithaa in the Assembly?
Captain has not missed the bus; if fact, he is the driver of Tamil Nadu's political bus even now; Key players are looking to us. Vijayakanth has followers from Chennai to Kanniyakumari and DMDK will be the alternative to both DMK and AIADMK. Captain has no animosity towards anyone. After the 2011 Assembly polls, we gave AIADMK a six-months breather and then we started questioning the government only on people's issues. Captain's response in the Assembly then was not pre-planned. There was also another background to it (AIADMK then severing ties with DMDK) as that was the time seat-sharing for local bodies' polls was being discussed. Thus, politics also keeps changing! We are not angry with anybody.