A three-term MP from Mayiladuthurai, Mani Shankar Aiyar, now a Rajya Sabha member, is fighting for the seventh time from the same Lok Sabha constituency. He lost in 2009 to the AIADMK nominee. In a conversation with P.V. Srividya, Mr. Aiyar discusses Narendra Modi, the BJP’s alliance in Tamil Nadu and caste politics, among other things.
The DMK has hinted that it may support the Congress after the election. What’s your response?
It’s not only the DMK; everyone who is running scared of a Modi government, every secular Indian, wants to see a non-BJP government. We have noted what the DMK has said. Let’s see what the political situation is after May 16.
BJP calls its ‘rainbow alliance’ in Tamil Nadu a formidable one. Your take?
It’s a joke. Zero plus zero plus zero plus zero equals zero. The PMK [Pattali Makkal Katchi] and DMDK [Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam] can’t stand each other, and it’s a DMDK alliance, not a BJP alliance.
The BJP cannot win a single seat in Tamil Nadu, and if it does, it’ll be thanks to Pon Radhakrishnan [BJP candidate in Kanniyakumari constituency], whose father was a right hand man of Kamaraj. That will be a Congress seat masquerading as BJP’s.
You have been strident in your criticism of Modi. What do you make of opinion polls that project the BJP sweeping a comfortable 250-plus seats?
I don’t believe there will ever be a Modi-led government; secondly, if there is one, it won’t last; and thirdly, if it does, I’ll fight it till the end.
Coming to your constituency, Vanniyars are a dominant caste group in Mayiladuthurai. Will that undercut your chances, with the PMK, an NDA constituent now, in the race?
No PMK candidate has ever won a parliamentary seat in Mayiladuthurai. That is because people don’t vote according to caste affiliations. Most of my workers are members of the Vanniyar Sangam, but not of PMK. Show me one party that does not have Vanniyars.
Caste-based politics is passé in the 21st century. It’s a question of class and it’s important to recognise that a vast majority of those who vote are poor. So long as our policies are pro-poor, we can be in the political race.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa’s poll plank in the Cauvery delta region (of which Mayiladuthurai is a part) is her opposition to the Coal Bed Methane project and the Congress’s failure to implement the Cauvery Tribunal’s final award. Will it affect your prospects, as it is primarily a farmers’ constituency?
As the Chief Minister, it was her duty to undertake a detailed scientific study to establish conclusively that the CBM [project] is destructive. I share her concerns, but disapprove of her method. I am not a scientist, but I’m an aficionado of truth. She makes politics of everything. We do not have a scientific basis to determine if CBM should be encouraged or not.
Playing politics with essential requirements of people has been the bane of Dravidian politics and so long as they act to be tougher than the other they may win seats but not solve issues.
The final award’s implementation was delayed because simultaneously two courses were pursued, one in the Supreme Court, another in the Cauvery Tribunal. Ms. Jayalalithaa has no desire to settle the Cauvery issue, only leverage it for her temporary political purposes.