Interview with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who had made an offer of support to the United Progressive Alliance on November 11, 2010, prior to A. Raja's removal as Telecom Minister, has reiterated that it was only a one-time offer; there was no question now of working with the Congress. She said a political realignment could happen before the 2014 general elections. “Anything can happen anytime,” she said when asked about the possibility of elections before 2014. The people wanted a strong and authoritative government to give them a sense of security. She did not rule out the possibility of national political realignment in the near future but did not explain why she felt such a realignment can happen anytime soon. She made it clear that she had moved on from 1999 when she withdrew support to the Vajpayee government, leading to its downfall: in the present context she might have acted differently. She did not rule out the possibility of a third front emerging, or the possibility of her being a part of it.
Excerpts from an interview the Chief Minister gave Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of the Times Now television channel, in Chennai on June 27.
Ms. Jayalalithaa, I've always considered you to be forthright and direct. When you spoke to me last on November 11, 2010, you made a dramatic offer, and I'm quoting you: you said if required the AIADMK would be willing to support the Central government. May I ask you ma'am, the circumstance and context in which you said that, and how you look back at it now?
In November 2010, the entire political situation was different. At that time, the Centre had not taken any action against those involved in the 2G spectrum scam. Though the nation was expecting [it], no action was taken. So at that time there was a feeling that the Centre was hesitating due to the compulsions of coalition politics. So that's why I made the offer, so that the Congress could feel assured, so that it would not have to suffer in case the DMK withdrew support to the government…. It was in that context that I made the offer, so that the Congress that was heading the coalition at the Centre would be reassured, so that if it did take strong action against corruption the government would not suffer and the government would not fall because of such action. So that they could continue. It was to give them that reassurance and the confidence that I made that offer. But now, the situation has totally changed. The Congress has made it clear that it has an alliance with the DMK, and it did face the elections with the DMK. And even after the results were known and they suffered a massive defeat, the Congress continues to say that they have an alliance with DMK, and it continues to be a part of the ruling coalition. And till date it is an important part of the alliance.
So, why were they so cool to your offer at that point of time? Because it was a very explicit offer. In fact you even put out the numbers. You said to them that the Congress does not want to lose the support of those 18, but now, and I'm quoting you, the DMK's position has become untenable, Raja's position became untenable. In fact Raja went three days after my question. Ms. Jayalalithaa, why were they cool to you? And do you think you set the ball rolling for Raja's ouster?
That's what the entire nation felt and said. But as to why [the] Congress didn't take up my offer, you should put it to the Congress. It's all history to me, it's in the past. It was a totally different scenario, [it's a] totally different situation in politics now. It doesn't exist anymore.
But don't you think political alliances, Ms. Jayalalithaa… the Congress leaders have said, and I'm quoting them, that the relationship with the DMK and the case against Mr. Raja are not related. That's what they say.
But that's not the way the nation sees it, that's not the way the people see it.
But my question again, Ms. Jayalalithaa — I'm going to be persistent on this — I can't fathom why they said no to you. The relationship with the DMK did not work electorally, they had a standing offer from [you] and yet they didn't take up the offer, act on Raja. It's a bit of a piecemeal effort, isn't it?
You used the words ‘standing offer.' It wasn't a standing offer [I] made in November. It wasn't a standing offer. And I repeat, as to why the Congress didn't take up that offer, they should answer it, they are the best judges and they should answer your question. As far as I'm concerned, I made that offer in a particular context, in a particular situation. And as far as I'm concerned, that situation doesn't exist anymore.
Do you think coalition politics with a greater role for regional players is the order of the day?
I can't make any predictions, I'm not an astrologer. But in trying to answer your questions, I can only say that it does seem that the days of single party majority rule are over. I think we are destined to live with coalition governments in the future. I don't think any party is capable of getting a single majority on its own.
By that definition, you as leader of one of the largest parties apart from the Congress and the BJP in the present political situation in India, in 2014… you will be a major player. You can't restrict yourself to Chennai.
Let's wait for the next general election to come around. It's hardly been a month, a month and a half or may be a little over a month since I took over. Let's see how this turns out.
Can I please interpret your earlier answer… you seem to indicate a mid-term election could happen, before 2014?
Anything can happen at any time. I didn't say something would happen. Anything can happen. We have to be prepared.
Prior to 2014?
Possibly, anything can happen.
Why do you say so?
No, I don't want to elaborate.
Everyone is very keen to know what you have been talking to top BJP leaders, and there has been a great deal of attention paid to your meeting with Sushma Swaraj, on the fact that Narendra Modi being present at your swearing-in ceremony, a very important gesture. Ideologically, surely you have no differences with the BJP in terms of working with them?
Earlier, when Mr. Narendra Modi was sworn in as the Chief Minister for the second time, I attended his swearing-in ceremony in Ahmedabad in 2002. So Modi returned the compliment now when I was sworn in. When you refer to Sushma Swaraj, you are omitting Sheila Dikshit. Both Ms. Sheila Dikshit and Sushma Swaraj are very charming and gracious ladies, both are my friends and paid courtesy calls, and especially called on me to congratulate me on my victory in the recent Assembly elections. Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad is a very good friend of mine and has appeared as a lawyer for me in some cases, so we know each other really well. So, we call on each other when we get the chance.
People say Narendra Modi could be a prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, Sushma could be prime ministerial candidate. So there is a slight difference between them and Sheila Dikshit and the two other leaders who you mentioned. Therefore, the general feeling is that everyone in the BJP, especially those who are aspirants for the top job, would believe that they can't get there without your support. Do you feel that is not an important inference for us to draw about your meetings with the BJP?
I've friends in all parties. My friends have spread all over the political spectrum, so I have good friends in the BJP, the Congress and other political parties too. They call on me as friends. They are friendly visits, and if you choose to read more into it, then I'm not responsible for it. It's not my problem.
The Congress party said when the Gujarat Chief Minister was here at your swearing-in ceremony: they said, I don't think there needs to be any elaboration that the Gujarat Chief Minister has orchestrated the worst genocide in independent India and therefore should not be touched with a barge pole. This comment was made only because Modi came here for your swearing-in ceremony
Let's not get into a discussion on Narendra Modi. He is a good friend, that's all.
When you look back at 1998-99, you said that time moves on and political views change. The reasons for which you had differences with the NDA in 1999, and now when you look at it in 2011... Could there be a fresh start?
Any person evolves with time and experience. It's the same with any political leader. If the same situation that occurred in 1999 had arisen today, I'd have acted differently and responded differently. You gain experience as time goes on. So, what was your question?
When you look back at 1999, the circumstances in which you withdrew your support to the NDA and in 2011 when you look back, you say that things move on, you say you could have reacted differently?
I'd like to stress on one thing: if you constantly keep looking back and harping on what goes on in the past, you cannot go on, can't do politics. So if you insist on what transpired in the past, and you dwell on issues that happened in the past, you're stagnating. You're preventing yourself from moving forward. As far as I am concerned, I live in the present and look towards the future.
In today's political environment, if Jayalalithaa is ambivalent — not ambivalent perhaps, but equidistant from both the parties — then that would throw up a whirlwind of opportunities for political parties in Delhi. What about the possibility of a third front? It did badly in the 2009 elections. Do you think, given the federal structure of our politics and the fact that the States need a greater voice at the Centre, that it is realistic or unrealistic… or perhaps a third front in the future?
Anything can happen in politics, and particularly in India anything can happen in Indian politics. So let's wait and see what the future throws up.
Would it be unrealistic to think about it?
I said let's wait and see what the future throws up. The future may not be so long away either.
Why do you say that? The future is quite far away as of now.
Well, that's what you think, but there could be changes earlier. As I said, you never know what will happen because one can generally sense what is the mood of the people. The people of this country want a change. They want a strong government in the Centre. They want a strong, authoritative government at the Centre. They want a government that will have a no-nonsense attitude towards corruption, and they want a government that will provide security against our unfriendly, hostile neighbours. So anything can happen in the future.
I would request you to give your observations on the national mood. You've seen the Lokpal debate. Where do you stand on the issue of, say the inclusion of the Prime Minister in the Lokpal bill, an issue which the government clearly is not keen to discuss?
I will enunciate my views very clearly. The proposed Lokpal bill should exclude the Prime Minister for the following reasons: the Prime Minister is already covered under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Any misconduct by the Prime Minister can be investigated by the CBI. Sometimes the Lokpal could be used by foreign powers to destabilise the government. But when a frivolous and politically motivated complaint against the Prime Minister is referred before the Lokpal and if the same is telecast by the TV channels — which will run it round-the-clock — it would dent the Prime Minister's credibility and authority. Even if nothing comes out of it, it will seriously dent the authority of the Prime Minister.
The Lokpal can investigate all allegations, and therefore when the allegations are levelled against the Prime Minister, when a complaint is put before the Lokpal, he will be put on the defensive and will be occupied in defending himself. In such an event, how can the government which is reliant on the Prime Minister work? The functioning of the Lokpal, inclusive of the Prime Minister, will pave the way for a parallel government which will undermine the authority of the Prime Minister. The State government of Tamil Nadu hasn't given its view, since no final draft has been arrived at. The Lokpal is much more than what is envisaged in the PCA. The State's view is that the Lokpal is much more than [has been] envisaged. The State's view can be formulated only after the final draft is given in Parliament. That's my view I have enunciated.
There are two ways in which politicians can be at the national level. It's inevitable that you'll play a role at the national level…
That's your assessment.
It has been the experience in the past.
I take it as a compliment, thank you very much.
What about a national role? Is it impossible to conjecture that you will look for a larger role for your party and yourself at the national level? Please don't dodge the question.
I'm not trying to dodge your question, I will answer it in my own way. I take life as it comes. I never planned a career in politics for myself. I never had any preparation for a career in politics. I never thought I could be Chief Minister and I didn't want to either. Somehow I did, and I became Chief Minister not once, but three times. I've no national ambition for myself. I have an ambition for India: I want India to be the superpower in the world. It has the potential to be [one]. So for that it needs a strong, patriotic leader at the helm of affairs. I've no personal ambitions, I go where my destiny takes me.
Keywords: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, interview, Times Now, 2G spectrum scam, Lokpal Bill, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, BJP, Congress, Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha polls, 2014 general elections