The AIADMK’s minorities wing secretary, former Labour Minister and former Ramanathapuram MP, A. Anwhar Raajhaa , appears to be a restless person. Not given an opportunity to contest in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly elections, the 72-year-old leader is one of those in the party who have been openly calling for a debate on the issue of readmission of former interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala. Though he favours her return, he tells The Hindu that he will abide by the party’s decision. A critic of the BJP, Mr. Raajhaa says the present arrangement of dual leadership in the AIADMK has failed to deliver. Excerpts:
What lessons has your party learnt from the successive defeats in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections? What lessons should be learnt by it?
I don’t think the party has learnt any. As for the lessons to be learnt, the party did not stitch the right coalition and it had not undertaken any review of the matter. There was no deep discussion on why the party, which bagged 37 seats in 2014, could win only one in 2019. The trend continued in 2021. Besides retaining the same coalition, the party suffered two setbacks. We did not receive the complete support of the Vanniyars, who were given 10.5% quota [within the overall quota of 20% for the Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities]. The campaign in the southern districts that the new quota had denied opportunities [to the others in the MBC and DNCs] had eroded the AIADMK’s votebase. In the northern districts, other communities, too, turned against us. The party base among the Scheduled Castes had also taken a beating.
What is your take on the perception that the AIADMK is getting weakened day by day, and the BJP is trying to occupy the position of the principal Opposition party?
I don’t see anything wrong in the BJP trying to gain a foothold in the State. But the AIADMK should not give room for that. People have been nursing grievances against us for allowing the BJP to ride piggyback on us. However, it will not be so easy for the BJP to be successful. Moreover, by having an alliance with it, there was no gain for us; we had only lost our vote.
What is the reason for you to keep on saying that Ms. Sasikala should be taken back?
Had she been with us, the party would have won 20 more seats. Had chemistry, too, worked, we would have got 40 more seats, as her presence and campaign would have sent out a message that the AIADMK was reunited.
Don’t you see her as a factor of liability?
Initially, I mean it was there in 2017-19. But it went down gradually. Now there is sympathy for her.
Won’t her family again dominate the party affairs?
I do not believe it will happen again. During the brief period that she was in control of the party, those who got positions of power in the government, such as D. Jayakumar [who held the portfolio of Finance in 2017] and K.A. Sengottaiyan [who became School Education Minister], did not belong to Mukkolathor, her community. This showed her approach, which I hope will continue.
But [the party co-coordinator] Edappadi K Palaniswami has been fiercely opposing her...
My feeling is being shared by 99% of the party workers.
Why are you silent on T.T.V. Dhinakaran?
He is no longer with our party. He is in the AMMK. Besides, he is not a matter of the current discussion.
What is your assessment of the dual leadership?
It has more de-merits than merits. There is no unanimity of views between the two [coordinator O. Panneerselvam and Mr. Palaniswami]. Just to ensure that the party does not suffer a split and lose its symbol, the two are adopting a give-and-take policy. OPS is much more accommodative than the other.
So, the dual leadership has not benefited the party
Do you want the system of single leadership to be restored?
Yes, provided the workers support it. And such a leader should be elected by all primary members.
Are you making the demand on Ms. Sasikala because you had once benefited from her politically, or her return would benefit you?
I have no such intentions. At this point of my life, I have nothing to lose. I have been in the party since 1972 and in politics since 1965. As I feel pained to see the party’s plight, I am making the demand. Leave aside her. All I want is let the party elect one as leader and remain united.