Elections 2019: Karti Chidambaram on why the BJP is bad for Tamil Nadu
Ahead of direct battle between BJP and Congress in TN, in a backward seat despite its VIP status, H Raja, Karti Chidambaram speak to mid-day about personal controversies and issues related to the constituency
Chennai: They are both brash, shoot from the lip and are supremely confident of winning. Meet H Raja, BJP national secretary, and Karti Chidambaram who is giving a second shot at wresting the Sivaganga seat that his father Palaniappan held for seven terms.
Raja, a one-time MLA from Karaikudi, one of the Assembly constituencies that form the Sivaganga parliamentary seat, took on P Chidambaram in 1999, but they both lost. He then took on the son, Karti, in 2014, when again they both lost to a resurgent ADMK, which won 37 of the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu even in the face of an overwhelming Modi wave. Karti, on the other hand, is battling the taint of corruption, thanks to the INX case.
Unlike the previous years, there are no external factors in 2019. In fact, this is a rare direct battle between the BJP and the Congress, with one state heavyweight allying with each (ADMK with BJP, and DMK with Congress). Amidst all this is the issue of Sivaganga remaining backward despite being a VIP seat. Water scarcity is a real problem, with high joblessness and lack of infrastructure and industry adding to its woes. Two days before the election, both Karti and Raja took time off their busy campaigns to address some questions.
Karti Chidambaram on the campaign trail in Devakotai on April 15
'BJP is a Hindi party'
Karti Chidambaram on why the BJP is bad for Tamil Nadu and the country, on his perception problems and corruption charges
Why do you favour the road show over the public rally?
Proliferation of various forms of media means people get information from multiple sources. They don't necessarily need to see anyone physically anymore. A candidate's physical presence is important to keep party workers and alliance cadre happy. Particularly in urban areas, majority of the population get their information from social media. In rural areas, there is a slightly greater expectation to see the candidate. Today, even if you are an accomplished speaker, the party needs to mobilise crowds. You think Modi and Amit Shah come here and drone in Hindi and they get spontaneous crowds?
Maybe not here, but definitely in the north
Nowhere in India does it happen that people turn up out of pure interest to hear someone speak. It is organised and galvanised by all political parties.
Isn't there a flip side to the proliferation of 'news' on social media? There was a clip where women were seen confronting you because your men did not give them the promised money for performing a welcome arti
Actually nobody confronted me. There is a lot of fake news. People just don't rely on social media for all their information. They filter out things. Secondly, there is an information overload. Nothing stays in people's mind for long. It's good because even if a fake story is circulated, it doesn't stick around. What is bad is that a substantial story gets drowned very quickly.
Or something like what Goyal said about not abolishing NEET?
That might stay on, as it's an emotive issue. It also shows how disconnected the BJP is with Tamil Nadu. BJP is a Hindi party. Let us not even shy away from it even for one nanosecond. They are apathetic towards this state.
Even in your meetings, you speak about DeMo, GST, etc. What about local issues?
The overarching issue in this election is to unseat the fascist Modi government.Everybody thinks that parliamentary elections are won and lost on micro issues. They are not. If only micro issues matter, how does one party in TN win all 40 seats most of the times.
But you need to acknowledge there are problems related to water, jobs, industry, etc, here
I understand there are problems, but as we are a bicameral system of government, unless local bodies, state and Central governments work together, things won't happen. ADMK has been in power for eight years and the BJP for five years. If anything has not been done in this time, the question must be posed to them. And not to my father who was MP last in 2014.
You mentioned in a meeting that there is an image of you being an arrogant and stand-offish person
I am dealing with that in meetings because it is false propaganda. The Opposition is repeating it, so I am addressing it.
Even your colleague Naatchiappan was unhappy that you were given the ticket
Says who? He came and met me the day I filed my nomination and told me I have his full support. The entire party machinery in this constituency is with me. Eleven applications were filed for his seat. Nine proposed me, one proposed Rahul Gandhi, which was me, and one proposed Naatchiappan, which he filed for himself.
You speak about BJP communalising issues, but even your party and ally DMK have taken the soft Hindutva approach of late
I am a practising secular Hindu. It is a private belief. There is no soft Hindutva. The Congress is clearly secular. The brand of Hinduism BJP shoves down our throat is not the Hinduism we practise. It is a brahminical north Indian version of Hinduism. The Nagpur chaps will squirm and be squeamish at any of our religious functions.
Will the INX case affect your candidature?
I face no cases. I only face open-ended, never-ending investigations.
You keep getting called to Mumbai for full-day questioning
In India you can file a case against anybody. You can investigate anybody till the cows come home. I face no case in a court of law. I have not been called by any court of law to respond or defend myself against any charges. I have only vague politically motivated allegations against me, which will be investigated forever.
Shouldn't there be a moral obligation for someone who is running for public office?
The easiest way is to foist these charges and disqualify people. As a government, you can file 100 FIRs. Now, I can file an FIR against you (asks aide: where are we going?) at Kannangudi today. It will be registered, but it may never become a charge sheet. So going by your logic you, who are from Mumbai, can't stand for public office because somebody in Kannangudi filed a complaint against you.
H Raja breaks for lunch at a party worker's home at Oliyamangalam village in Sivaganga constituency
'Chidambaram has destroyed Sivaganga'
H Raja on his rivals, allies and how he will turn around the struggling district if elected
Why do you meticulously explain to the public the dynamics of the ADMK alliance and the voting procedure?
In rural areas, you need to explain to people that there is an alliance and the other parties are our partners. So that ADMK supporters (who are used to voting for the Two Leaves) know that they need to vote for the Lotus.
You also speak a lot about the Centre's performance. What about local issues? Sivaganga has not developed the way a VIP seat should
P Chidambaram proved to be a disaster for this constituency. When he became MP from here in 1984, Sivaganga had 11 textile mills. Now there is nothing.
What about water scarcity and jobs?
Linking Cauvery and Kundaru to provide water to Sivaganga has been included in the ADMK manifesto. As it is almost certain that Modiji will return to power, it will help resolve this problem. We also plan to help train the youth for better jobs.
What about industry?
When Railway Minister Piyush Goyal came to address senior leaders of the alliance, he asked for me to be sent to the Parliament so that they can help make Sivaganga the hub of handloom and textile sectors.
You have a bit of history going with the Chidambarams (Raja contested against P Chidambaram in 1999 and against Karti in 2014). How is this election different?
In 2014, we did not have a powerful alliance partner. Now we have the ADMK. So I feel that my victory is certain. If you add the votes polled by ADMK and us, the number will be huge. In 2014, the Chidambarams were not facing serious cases. Now people are well aware of money laundering and corruption charges.
Though you are credited for making the party highly visible in TN, there has been criticism that you are divisive. How do you respond?
What do you mean by divisive? For 80 years you go on abusing the Hindu religion and Hindus should keep quiet? That is not secularism.
Two examples to address this issue. Did you have to point at actor Vijay's religion in response to criticism of GST in one of his movies? Could you not have just said that he has political ambitions so the vested interest in dissing GST?
No. Have I ever mentioned his religion?
You harped on his name
Yes, what is his name?
That is his name. You call me either H Raja or Hariharan Raja. Why should I bother?
Come on, you know what the implied message was
You read between the lines with malicious intent.
Let us take a clearer example. When a Lenin statue is felled in Tripura, you say Periyar is next! What is the need for such a discourse? You could have argued against Periyar's thoughts and ideas
Either you are ill-informed or you want to create a controversy. I did not agree with my Facebook administration. It is a fact that he did it. And I removed him as my admin.
Will Raja come out and say I represent the Muslims and Christians of Sivaganga?
The Constitution provides equality irrespective of caste, creed and religion. I represent everybody. That doesn't mean that I should be a silent spectator of the plight of Hindus.
Goyal has said NEET won't be abolished. Will it affect your party's prospects?
People are not at all angry. When the issue was in court, many students who passed NEET told me over phone that if the eligibility test got overturned, they would commit suicide. Moreover, under the state board's Std XII exam, only Namakkal district was cornering one-third of the seats. Now there is a better spread under NEET.
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