Lok Sabha polls | In Tamil Nadu, BJP is a keyboard warrior: Dayanidhi Maran

The DMK’s candidate for Chennai Central says the BJP has digital teams that try to promote the party as ‘larger than life’; he asks whether the Modi government at the Centre has been able to double the GDP within 10 years as the Manmohan Singh government had done during its term

Updated - April 12, 2024 07:45 pm IST

Published - April 11, 2024 03:17 am IST - CHENNAI

Dayanidhi Maran is seeking re-election to the Central Chennai Lok Sabha constituency.

Dayanidhi Maran is seeking re-election to the Central Chennai Lok Sabha constituency. | Photo Credit: S.R. Raghunathan

DMK leader and Chennai Central Lok Sabha constituency candidate Dayanidhi Maran says the clear objective of the INDIA bloc is to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not get another term. He says the DMK-led alliance would sweep the Lok Sabha polls winning all 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. During an interaction with board members and journalists of The Hindu in Chennai on Wednesday, he shared his thoughts on the DMK’s commitment to secularism, the electoral bonds issue and the “misuse” of Central investigative agencies. Excerpts:

Do you think the BJP is a force to reckon with in Tamil Nadu? This is the first time it is heading an alliance here and it looks like the AIADMK is a much weaker force than it was. Do you think the BJP is growing at the expense of the AIADMK, although this may be advantageous to the DMK in the short term?

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is a keyboard warrior. And they have the IT teams, which try to promote themselves as larger than life. Moreover, unfortunately, I am just generalising [but] the entire media in India is now controlled by the BJP. I do not want to accuse any particular media but it is a fact that when they want a narrative to be published, it goes all the way up. Every television channel wants to say the same narrative. And sometimes when you start flipping the channels, the same news gets repeated over and over again, which clearly shows the control they [the BJP] have. In fact, the BBC, which did a story against the Prime Minister, had the Enforcement Directorate knocking its door. Just imagine the kind of fear they are inciting.

In Tamil Nadu, last time, when the BJP stood alone, they were competing with NOTA. Now, they are able to manage some light. Probably, they will do better than NOTA. That is our feedback.

What gives you the confidence that the DMK alliance will get 40/40? Is it solely based on the alliance arithmetic? We see there is some resonance on the ground for Edappadi Palaniswami’s campaign. [For instance] In Vellore and Dharmapuri, there is an intense fight...

Right from 2019, under the able leadership of our leader M.K. Stalin, we have been consistently winning the election and our percentage is nothing less than 52%. The same alliance does continue now. Now, we have Mr. Kamal Haasan also on our side. The Opposition alliance in the State is now a divided front. And that is also going to help us.

Is Edappadi’s campaign having an impact? I don’t find it so because [like] my leader said it clearly is an illegal alliance, unholy alliance between the AIADMK and the BJP. The AIADMK decided to part ways with the BJP fearing they will not get votes from the minorities. But, we find that wherever BJP is contesting, the AIADMK workers are still working for BJP.

Probably, the CBI, ED have a strong arm over Edappadi and others. This is quite obvious. In my own constituency, I find that where the DMDK is campaigning we can hardly see any AIADMK workers with them. They [the AIADMK] are working for the BJP. So there seems to be an unholy alliance there and seems to continue. Why am I confident? Because I am on the ground. So when you are on the ground, it’s a totally different scenario. Because the success for DMK is that we have to be foot soldiers and everyone has to be foot soldiers. The ground is very, very clear.

There is no impact of Mr. Modi coming over and over again to Chennai and people are able to see through it.

You were mentioning the BJP will do slightly better than NOTA. And you also called Mr. Annamalai a “joker” in a recent interview. But do you think that without any support base today the BJP has grown to a position where they are able to lead an alliance, with a party like the PMK preferring the BJP as opposed to the AIADMK?

From 2009, when they [PMK] decided to leave the DMK alliance, their success rate has been very pathetic. And the father-son duo always create a scene, where the father wants to have a DMK alliance and the son wants to have an AIADMK alliance. Then, at the end of the day, they see if they can negotiate.

At one point, the late Dr. Kalaignar made this statement, “We are not in talks with PMK because they were trying to increase their value. So it’s just the scenario.” So what is the alliance that BJP has got? Why does PMK want to [align]? Because they are worried. Because [PMK president Anbumani] Ramadoss has got three or four cases against him. CBI cases. So that’s what we heard, in fact, the entire media knows that. A call came from Mr. Amit Shah to Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss. “You either fall in line or face the music.” So he fell in line. So when this is such a kind of alliance, what do you expect?

Yes, I did call Mr. Annamalai a “joker”. Please look at this. Look at YouTube. He is a hero there, all the memes creators are really looking for him, and he is so desperate that every day he wants to comment. Look at what he has said. Earlier, he said “I am a proud Kannadiga”, then he says “I am a Tamilian”. He says “I do not have any money” and then he says “₹20 lakh is given by my friends every month to support my family”. He says “I do not know Hindi.” Then, he speaks in Hindi. He keeps changing stance... He is a joker. As a leader, you should have consistency.

Most of your alliance candidates feel their strength actually comes from the divided Opposition in the State. For example, in Chidambaram, Thirumavalavan won last time with a margin of 3,219 votes. Even a month ago, he was not sure whether he would be able to win this time. So, is the divided alliance the major source of strength for the DMK alliance?

In politics, I have seen in my experience, 5 + 5 is not 10. It is also about the ground. How the ground really behaves. Tamil Nadu is a very sentimental and emotional state. When they decide to sway, you can’t do anything. In Tamil Nadu, the emotions are very, very clear. It is anti-Modi and anti-Edappadi.

So, if you ask about Mr. Thirumavalavan, the emotions go across the State. It is is not that the eastern part of Tamil Nadu will behave differently or the western part will behave differently. It will be across the State.

You spoke about ED and the CBI putting pressure on politicians and making them switch alliances or withdraw from the contest. What about the electoral bonds? Do you think it has skewed the level playing field?

The DMK is the only party that did not wait for the Supreme Court order to come out and said this is who our donors are. But if you see the BJP, it got ₹8,500 crore (numbers are yet to be finalised); a company which has got ₹1 lakh turnover is giving ₹100 crore, and a company which is closed down is giving ₹100 crore. The names of companies are so weird. That means there are bigger companies behind. They’re using some other company names to give. Those who are getting raided are giving the money. So, it is very, very clear you are misusing the official machinery like the ED, the CBI to benefit.

What about PM CARES [Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund]? Nobody knows how much of money has really gone into it. Where is the transparency the BJP spoke about? As a candidate I have to declare assets. But why PM CARES funds have not been disclosed?

The 2G scam was such a big thing and the CAG said that time [the loss was] ₹20,000 crores. It affected the DMK’s winning prospects in 2014. The same CAG has [now] said that ₹7.5 lakh crore has been misappropriated by the Union government, especially in highways projects.

What should the CBI do now? Oh, there’s a CAG report. We will look into it. We will find out where this money went. Who are the culprits? Even if the Prime Minister is the culprit, we will go and arrest him. They won’t do that. They are very busy.

They want to go after Arvind Kejriwal and Opposition parties because they want to make sure that INDIA alliance should not be there. If Modi is so confident that the BJP will win 400 seats, then he should not be doing all these things.

In cities and larger towns, this election seems more like an election in which local issues matter. People are talking about congestion, flooding, availability of water...

What my leader has advised us when we go for election is: There’s no difference to your role as a councillor, as an MLA, as an MP. People demand everything from any elected person and that’s what we are supposed to do. Chennai is a growing city. In fact, traffic is a major issue. I took it up with the Chief Minister and said we have to do something.

The CM constituted a committee headed by the Chief Secretary, which will meet every month to look into Chennai’s traffic. We have also proposed an elevated road starting from Eldams Junction up to Little Mount. Civic issues are there but I can assure you of the speed at which we are clearing them.

The second or third generation of families with ancestral houses wants to convert them into flats. So all the roads, which had all independent houses, now have flats. The drainage systems are about 40-50 years old now. The drainage system, which was supposed to cater to 60 houses, are to meet the demands of 60 x 8. That’s the kind of pressure. Yes, it is the duty of the civic corporations to meet the demand. We are doing it. But what happens is it’s a process. We can’t just dig up the entire road and put a pipe.

The population is growing and our demands are also growing. So desalination plants are in the pipeline, it’s a continuous process.

You say your system is overwhelmed by the population? Is it really as simple as that? Are there not things that you can do on your own? For example, if you just walk down the road, you see all the kerb space taken up by two-wheelers.

Chennai or any city has people who come and illegally squat. This is how kingdoms or cities are. Because people who are have-nots come to cities to make their own small living and they try to live next to rivers, riverbeds. Then the government decides to give them proper housing. The moment you take one [set of people], the next generation, the next part of the population comes in.

Try to go to any of the roads in the night. Cars are parked on both sides of the road. Why? People can afford cars but they do not have parking space. If the government has to build a parking space, they want it free. Under the smart city programme, the government built a massive automated parking facility in Panagal Park. What are the takers? 20% or less than that.

One of the striking differences between the DMK’s campaign and the BJP’s is the style of politics. For example, that it’s been described as presidential style of politics the BJP follows. The DMK is talking more about local, State-level issues. You’re on a strong footing on those issues. But what message do you project? This is a Lok Sabha election. What message do you project to the broader constituency that is India itself?

Our world is Tamil Nadu. Then, we go to India. My constituents will ask me what are you going to do for me? Everyone is selfish. I want to take care of my locality first, then only will I worry about others.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP has nothing to say. They have nothing to showcase. They are talking as if they are from another part of India. They talk about the Gujarat model. They talk about the U.P. double engine growth model. Then why are people from U.P. and Gujarat coming to Chennai to work? If it is so successful there, why are they coming here?

Would it help if you had a Prime Ministerial candidate? Rahul, Kharge or someone, who would have helped you against the Modi-centric election?

Please understand, the INDIA alliance, as my Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said, is the Prime Minister candidate. We are very, very, very clear. We will choose the Prime Minister candidate after the election is over.

What was the prediction first? That INDIA alliance will disappear and will never hold ground. Today, we are looking good. Now, we are giving a strong fight to the BJP. We only want to ensure that Modi does not come back. We are very clear.

So the INDIA bloc’s campaign in the rest of the country has been more on the secularism plank. So they’re pushing it. So what percentage of your campaign is on secularism?

DMK is 100% for secularism from day one. This is the foundation of the DMK. In fact, people who are joining the INDIA alliance are for secularism. Otherwise, will they be part of BJP. Nitish Kumar jumped to BJP because he did not want to be secular. We are committed to secularism.

Do you feel the need to talk about secularism in a State like Tamil Nadu, which has been ruled by the Dravidians?

The sad part is that the BJP is trying to divide us. They’re trying to divide us in the name of religion. They are already talking about one nation, one election. It is going to be a dictatorship. They have delimitation and will ensure that we follow the delimitation process and seats will be reorganised.

So this is what we will tell them. Listen, we are followers of the law. One family, one child. We followed. But the same thing was not followed in the northern part of India. Our fear is tomorrow if we decide to delimit the parliamentary constituencies in terms of the population, U.P., which has got 80 seats, will have 140. And our numbers might come down.

You [the BJP] are criticising the Muslims? Who are they? Did they come from an alien planet? They were born here. They are a part of India. Why are you treating them differently?

Don’t discriminate us by language. Look at Europe. Europe speaks many languages. We are not against Hindi. But do not impose Hindi on us.

We are doing good. We learn Tamil. We learn English. Our children are there everywhere, throughout the world.

Why do you want to control us? Why do you want to make sure that everyone speaks in Hindi? Why? So that it will be easy for Narendra Modi to convince everyone to vote for him?

Do you think in the delimitation process based on the next Census, the southern States might lose out?

We need wider consultation. It is not in favour of us. It is not in favour of the southern States.

You said your bloc’s main agenda is to stop Modi from coming back to power. Would it be better if you had an alternative economic and political and philosophical agenda which you can sell to the masses?

What did the Modi government achieve in the past 10 years? When Dr. Manmohan Singh took over the reins in 2004, the GDP was ₹50 lakh crore. When Singh demitted office in 2014, it was ₹100 lakh crore.

So when Modi took over it was ₹100 lakh crore but in 2024 how much should it be? It should have been ₹200 lakh crore but is only ₹167 lakh crore. So, has the BJP or Modi performed extremely well economically? Or did Nirmala Sitharaman deliver?

Is an alternative agenda better than opposing Modi alone?

The way Modi is going to go, I’m worried. My people in Tamil Nadu will still have to live, whether Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Sikh.

See our policy manifesto. We want to reduce the price of petrol. We want to reduce the price of diesel. We want to reduce the price of gas. I was expecting some questions from you on that side. These issues are important to the common man.

Not even a single State is supporting the DMK’s case when it comes to NEET.

Do you understand why is it we are opposing NEET? In the Dravidian model of governance, we give so much of importance for education. We want to make sure that all the students, every community get education. So we ensure that we have good State-run schools everywhere.

Do you mean to say a doctor, who is treating Modi or you or me has taken NEET? They came from State Board schools. They did well, all the top doctors in the country are from Tamil Nadu. What is happening in Kota, Rajasthan? Till now, 27 students have committed suicide. Because they are not able to handle the pressure of studying for NEET or CUET or for any other entrance exam.

Modi has got an advisory group, who are all returned from the U.S., who are failures in the U.S. but are trying to prove that they are very successful. They want to now convert our system to the American standards system. What do they want? They want four years’ undergraduation. Why? So that these students can get admission in the U.S. See the mentality. What about the colleges in our country?

Kalaignar, when he became CM, saw the huge aspiration, especially among girl children, to become doctors. Only in Tamil Nadu, there is a medical college in every district. But other States never cared and they never invested.

The Congress party, in its manifesto, has spoken about 100 days of Parliamentary sittings. A similar promise was made by the DMK before the 2021 election to the State Legislature. It seems to me that the era of great debates in Legislature are over. Is a space for effective parliamentarians or legislators shrinking?

From 2004 to 2014, I was MP. We had such healthy debates. Dr. Manmohan Singh would make it a point to sit in Parliament. Pranab Mukherjee would make sure, as the Leader of the House, to be in Parliament. If the Leader of the Opposition raised a point, he or she would be given the floor, be it Advani or Sushma Swaraj. It was such a democratic system.

In 2019, during swearing-in, a BJP guy came. Their mother tongue is Hindi. But, to show his superiority, he was trying to take oath in Sanskrit. This is where we were pissed off. What are you trying to do?

They will talk about anything. They get the floor of the House. But when we want to talk about Adani, they will not allow us to. But, we made them do it. The process has to happen. We need healthy discussions. Somehow, we will have to bring back democracy.

Your allies are facing the heat over Udhayanidhi Stalin’s comments on Sanatana Dharma. Is DMK under pressure to tone down on its comments?

What Udhayanidhi spoke is nothing new in Tamil Nadu. Periyar spoke, Anna spoke, Kalaignar spoke, Mr. Stalin spoke and even I have spoken. And what are we saying? Equality. You are no way superior to me because you are born in an upper caste. I am no way inferior to you because I’m born in a lower caste. Because we are all equals. Is equality wrong?

Unfortunately in our country, the courts also tend to sway towards the BJP. But, let me tell you something, equality can never be denied.

But is it having a political impact?

Let’s wait for the election to see. That’s the best way to find out.

As a progressive party, why is the DMK not leading from the front when it comes to allocation of seats for women? Is it winnability or what are you concerned about?

The DMK government has ensured 50% reservation for women in local body polls. Today, we have the first woman Mayor in Chennai. Sometimes, there are some political compulsions. There are three women contesting from DMK. Please understand that we are not standing in 40 seats. If we are, then we have more room to play. I’m sure we are progressive. We believe in empowerment of women and we want to do that.

Yesterday’s statement from the Prime Minister said that the DMK’s MPs are not accessible to the public. What’s your response?

I’ve been an MP for the last 5 years. I have seen Modi the first day Parliament starts. He comes only for that, for the Presidential address and reply. Or when he wants to attack the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. Other times, he has not participated in any discussion. Before you accuse us, did you [Mr. Modi] perform as an MP?

During COVID, it was the DMK that was on the ground and worked for the people and, in fact, we lost one of our district secretaries, J. Anbazhagan. DMK is always on the ground.

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