New Delhi: In an exclusive interview to NDTV, the daughter of DMK chief M Karunanidhi, Kanimozhi, discusses the many controversies dogging her party ahead of the Tamil Nadu elections.
Kanimozhi, who is also a Rajya Sabha member, defends A Raja and the dynastic set up of the DMK and says she will fight out the CBI chargesheet if she is named.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Sreenivasan Jain: It's been a bit of a trial by fire for you, hasn't it? You are in some ways the recent entrant into politics, I mean you have joined it in the middle of the, possibly the, biggest storm that's engulfed your party. Do you see it like that at all?
Kanimozhi: Yes, it is a difficult time but I am very positive that we will come out of it.
Sreenivasan Jain: But Kanimozhi, is the DMK now acknowledging the fact, that there is going to be an impact, or to put it bluntly, that there is going to be damage to you in these election because of everything that's happening in 2G, Raja and all of that?
Kanimozhi: See right from the beginning we have been saying that it is a perception, the allegations are based on perception and the court case is in court and let the process go on and let's see what comes out of it. If somebody is found guilty, definitely the party will take action, but before that we can't do judgment, the press, the media, the other people can't set trial. There are judges there is a court to do that. We can't pass judgment on anybody, so that's what we have been trying to say.
Sreenivasan Jain: So are you still maintaining that Raja is innocent, not guilty?
Kanimozhi: I'm not saying that somebody is innocent or somebody is not guilty. I'm saying the case is in the court, so let the process go on.
Sreenivasan Jain: But your father, the leader of the party is saying that he is an honest man. He is saying Raja is an honest man. He is smarter. He has wrongly been victimized. Is that the stand even now that the party and you are still taking?
Kanimozhi: The DMK believes, its cadres, DMK believes its leaders. So let the court, let there be a fair trial and after that we can make decisions about it. Why hang somebody before even the trial happens?
Sreenivasan Jain: It's not the question of hanging anyone, but surely when someone sees the mass of evidence that has emerged about the entire process, the way the licences were given, the people to whom the licenses were given. The money trails now from the beneficiary of those licences connecting to Raja, after seeing all of that?
Kanimozhi: Let us see what you call as evidence. The court has to accept whatever you call as evidences and real evidences. It has to be hardcore evidence that stands in the court, so without that we can't take anything that comes out in paper, anything that is leaked out, anything that comes out with agendas behind, that we can't call that evidences. Let the court make its decisions whether something is evidence or not.
Sreenivasan Jain: You think there is an agenda behind everything that's emerged?
Kanimozhi: I am not saying that you have an agenda or anybody else has an agenda.
Sreenivasan Jain: The CBI is the one who is investigating it.
Kanimozhi: Definitely not, definitely not. I'm not accusing the CBI of anything, please don't try to twist my words to something else.
Sreenivasan Jain: No, I'm just asking..
Kanimozhi: No, definitely not, I mean some media somebody else. It's after all some politics. So something that comes out might have a reason behind it, Opposition might have. I'm not even saying they do have. I'm saying something, so let us see whether whatever comes out as from sources or as evidences, let it be real evidences, let the court decide.
Sreenivasan Jain: To go back to my initial question, are you saying this is not going to impact you in these elections? The corruption and the 2G and Raja will not be a negative impact on the DMK?
Kanimozhi: Of course, there are people who are desperately, who are trying to make this into an issue. But I think this election we are going to fight it on the basis and merits of the government, which the DMK has given in the past five years to the people of Tamil Nadu.
Sreenivasan Jain: No, I'm not saying about people making an issue, the other parties. But among the people of Tamil Nadu itself, is there something which is a factor they are considering, when they see the party when they are considering?
Kanimozhi: No, I don't think this election is going to be decided on perceptions. This election is going to be decided on what has been done, black and white. What is being delivered by the government; what is there for people to see.
Sreenivasan Jain: OK, we will come to that, what is there for people to see in a bit. But I just want to ask you that this entire thing has no longer been about A Raja, this entire question has come to your door step. An organisation that you are associated with has been raided. You have been questioned by the CBI. Surely that wouldn't have been easy for you? That's not an experience that anyone wants to go through?
Kanimozhi: Yes, definitely. But I don't make the decision in Kalaignar TV. I might be associated with it but everybody associated with it doesn't get to make decisions.
Sreenivasan Jain: So, even though you are someone who is a 20% stakeholder in the Kalaignar TV, you don't have any decision-making, you don't go to their offices?
Kanimozhi: I'm not a director, I hardly go to offices and I'm not really interested what happens over here and nor do I interfere in what goes on in Kalaignar TV. Apart from that it is an inquiry. So let us say we are saying this is a business house, that Kalaignar TV is an institution that is run as a business.
Sreenivasan Jain: So it is a business that is owned by the DMK family?
Kanimozhi: So, there is an enquiry and I'm telling you that we will come clean out of it, so let us wait, we haven't done anything.
Sreenivasan Jain: So, are you saying this entire money that was transferred, the 214 crores.
Kanimozhi: I will like to correct you here. I think we borrowed it from Cineyug, the company called Cineyug. So that is whom we had borrowed it from and we have returned it with interest, so it is borrowing money and returning it and that is it.
Sreenivasan Jain: Kanimozhi, The reason why that argument was questioned was because your CEO said it wasn't a loan, essentially said they were looking to it.
Kanimozhi: Yes, they were looking into it. Every company looks into it, yes.
Sreenivasan Jain: There was a disagreement over the investment?
Kanimozhi: I'm talking about the later part of it. Yes it was an investment and they didn't tell the Kalaignar TV people and the company didn't agree to whatever the stakes would be. So they decided to take it as a loan to return the money.
Sreenivasan Jain: So that is unusual. First that is that you are planning to invest into a company and you are trying to value it and you never actually transfer any money into it. You only do it when you actually agree on the evaluation. If you have already done that, it is very unusual for someone to make that into a loan, the moment there is a disagreement, you return it.
Kanimozhi: We have returned it.
Sreenivasan Jain: And returned it by paying 31 crores..
Kanimozhi: Yes, we have paid interest, what is wrong in that, obviously the company? I have money to invest and if I don't need it back immediately then I'm just giving it as a loan; if I'm getting interest and I'm getting profit out of it?
Sreenivasan Jain: But when was this money returned? The worry is that it was returned much after the investigation that begun and all that?
Kanimozhi: Obviously, when we thought that things might not be right, we returned the money.
Sreenivasan Jain: When did you return the money?
Kanimozhi: I don't remember the dates.
Sreenivasan Jain: So this was not then the CBI or the investigating agency examining this as a bribe?
Kanimozhi: How can the bribe be returned, please tell me if you are going to call something a bribe? I don't know anyone returning a bribe with interest?
Sreenivasan Jain: Once things start to get warm, you can quickly return it?
Kanimozhi: No, no the investigations happened last month, I think the money was returned much before that.
Sreenivasan Jain: We need to get those exact dates. Perhaps later on we could get those?
Kanimozhi: Next interview with you I will give you all the dates
Sreenivasan Jain: But were these some of the areas that CBI covered with you, the Kalaignar TV?
Kanimozhi: Am not sure whether I should really be discussing what the CBI discussed with me.
Sreenivasan Jain: That was one and the other one was this land that belonged to Voltas, which was transferred to somebody who was supposed to be working in your family?
Kanimozhi: Let me correct you. The land in question never belonged to Voltas. It belonged to a family of 11 or 17 people..
Sreenivasan Jain: That's right, who leased it out to Voltas.
Kanimozhi: Yes, so Voltas and they had a problem. This land never belonged to Voltas. Somebody else had bought it from this family so I don't know why do you have to bring Voltas into it?
Sreenivasan Jain: The land they gave it to someone called Sarvanan who was working with your family. That was the connection.
Kanimozhi: No, no he is an agent who buys and sells land. He doesn't want the land. It wasn't sold to him. It was sold to someone else, so how do we come into the picture?
Sreenivasan Jain: Last thing Kanimozhi, before we move on from this, is that some of the NGOs that you were associated with, were raided by the CBI, including Tamil Maiyam.
Kanimozhi: Not some of them, only one
Sreenivasan Jain: Only Tamil Maiyam with the suspicion that some of the 2G money was actually transferred. Or the suspicion that NGO may have been the beneficiary of the 2G money.
Kanimozhi: No. How can be an NGO be a beneficiary? Because the money that we received came from different companies from all over India. Nobody takes it away from there. It is used for programmes all throughout the year. And this is a folk art festival. Chennai Sangamam is a folk art festival, which I'm involved in for reviving the lives of 1600 folk artists from all over the state.
Sreenivasan Jain: Right, you organise the annual Chennai festival and so on.
Kanimozhi: Right so how can anybody be a beneficiary from that? If you are talking about beneficiaries, they are 1600 folk artists. You mean to say you are going to include 1600 folk artists as beneficiaries who don't know where their next meal is coming from into a scam?
Sreenivasan Jain: No, I'm only saying this IS NOT something we are making up, this is the CBI that actually raided and questioned.
Kanimozhi: Yes, Tamil Maiyam was open to the raid, nobody resisted it nobody said anything. They finished the inquiries and they would have come to know that Tamil Maiyam had committed no crime.
Sreenivasan Jain: Did you receive any money from Sadiq Batcha at all?
Kanimozhi: I have hardly any contact with him, I hardly knew him and why should I receive money from anybody I didn't know?
Sreenivasan Jain: Were you surprised when you heard about the suicide?
Kanimozhi: Of course, I mean I was surprised after all it is somebody's life.
Sreenivasan Jain: And you think that it seems to suggest stress caused by the investigation that he went through could have triggered?
Kanimozhi: I heard. I heard his wife had told somebody, and I think even in her statement she has said that they have been harassed by the media, and people used to come and knock at their doors and ask whether the husband was arrested or whether she is going to be arrested. I mean for a normal family it is a little difficult to, it's definitely no reason for anybody to take away life, it's very sad that it happened..
Sreenivasan Jain: But you never met him, you never knew him at all?
Kanimozhi: I hardly knew him.
Sreenivasan Jain: Kanimozhi, one of the things that has emerged in all of this, this seems to bring to the surface, at least what seems to outsiders, are divisions within your own family. When it came to Raja, when it came to the question of whether you be made the Telecom Minister or not, is it a legitimate way of interpreting what happened?
Kanimozhi: It is not. Of course there was a rift and then it happens in every family, so why do you want to make an issue out of it?
Sreenivasan Jain: It's only coming out in the context that were some members of the family supporting some ministers, others weren't, so were some of these factors.
Kanimozhi: In politics people do support some people and I'm sure it happens to every party. So I don't think it is something new and just because it is the DMK don't try to you know.
Sreenivasan Jain: Well the DMK..
Kanimozhi: Well please don't read more into that, just because it is DMK.
Sreenivasan Jain: You continue to be a strong supporter of Raja. You feel he is a good politician for the future and you continue to support him strongly?
Kanimozhi: As long as the party supports him as the member of the party I continue to support him. I don't have to be discussing and answering questions like this..
Sreenivasan Jain: Ok fine, fair enough. Coming out of these elections, coming to some of the issues that the Opposition is raising and one of the things they are raising, is that they are describing the DMK as almost a family trust. The inordinate number of your family members who are in power and dynastic politics is not new in India, right and there is nothing new about it in India, it is certainly true that when it comes to numbers the DMK has certainly a disproportionately large number of family members?
Kanimozhi: One thing you must understand is the DMK comes from the Dravidian movement and in the Dravidian movement it is not one person who gets involved in the movement, it is the entire family. You can take straight from Periyar, his wife was, she was therefore fronting in all the meetings and she spoke in meetings and conducted rallies. She was imprisoned she went to jail. Same thing happened with many of them who came after that.
Sreenivasan Jain: Here there are not two members, here there is you, there is Alagizhi, Stalin, there are the Marans?
Kanimozhi: When you talk about Stalin it is grossly unfair to talk about him as a family member or a person who is in politics is in family, because he has spent more than 40 years of his life working in the DMK, he started the youth wing of the DMK.
Sreenivasan Jain: Alagizhi?
Kanimozhi: And Alagizhi may be has not been the face, but he has worked from behind. So you can't definitely bring both of them into the family politics.
Sreenivasan Jain: Can you be called the member of family politics, can Dayanidhi be called the member of family politics.
Kanimozhi: We are all there because we are interested. If people don't want us than they should reject us..
Sreenivasan Jain: It's not as simple as that, it's not that you all are in the lowly position, you all are there in prominent positions, Stalin is now there as Deputy Chief Minister, Azhagiri is a Cabinet Minister, Dayanidhi is a Cabinet Minister.
Kanimozhi: Stalin has 40 years, he has more than 40 years of hard work behind him, and in any party he would have achieved even more than that, if he were not the part of the family.
Sreenivasan Jain: But what about all the other senior veterans of the party? It's not that the party has some shortage of the very senior leaders, there's Mr Anbazhagan, there is Arcot Veeraswamy, Ponmudi, why couldn't they have been Deputy Chief Ministers? Perhaps Chief Minister as well, those are the times when questions come up.
Kanimozhi: Yes, on one side you want younger generation, you want new people to be taking over and on the other side you want the senior leaders to be running the party. Where are these conflicts and contradictions going to lead us?
Sreenivasan Jain: But you are not concerned that the perception of the DMK has been inordinately large in family numbers, some of who may be at conflict at each other, could be the liability for you in the election? That's what don't you think will set you back?
Kanimozhi: People don't have to read it the same way; all of us have been involved in politics and put in our bit for where we are. It is not that people just came over night.
Sreenivasan Jain: So you all have your own niches, your standings. Whatever you are saying, leaders are not only seen as family members but they have managed to stand on their feet? Yes definitely, the second issue that is related to the election is all these free gifts that you have been announcing. This happened in the last election as well and that it's crossed all boundaries. Now I know you are a staunch member of your own party, does it make you uncomfortable, when you see a manifesto that's full of announcements?
Kanimozhi: It s is not exactly free gifts, it is welfare schemes..
Sreenivasan Jain: Can't be distributing laptops, mixers, grinders?
Kanimozhi: I don't understand why can't you give laptops because most probably most of them will not be able to buy laptops. A lot of families do not understand how important it is for a student to have a laptop or a computer so that they can get information.
Sreenivasan Jain: But you are not distributing laptops to people who are below a particular economic class, you are distributing to all college and govt. college and aided colleges as well, one of those kids might not be necessarily be poor.
Kanimozhi: Not many students from the govt colleges or govt aided colleges come from upper strata, at least more than 80% of those families will not be able to afford them.
Sreenivasan Jain: Again television sets, I can understand govt subsidising necessities like food, education or health, but these are just open amusements surely?
Kanimozhi: No, television sets for you and me is nothing big, we grew up with it. But a family that can't buy it, it is a window to the world and for many children and why do you have to deny them that?
Sreenivasan Jain: Are you defending all these things that have been distributed, don't you think the election should be fought in the basis of performance and politics?
Kanimozhi: Of course we are fighting election based on performance. DMK govt gives 25000 rupees to girls from poor families when they get married. To look at it superficially, it will look like just handing out money, it will definitely look like that we are bribing people, or we are giving out gifts in your words, but it is only to students who have passed their tenth standard. In a society where education for a girl child is not considered important, and in many families where there is another child, or if there is any other casualty the first thing is that the girl's education is stopped. If they have to send the girl to a school that's far away they don't want to send, because she has to walk alone. So if you have something like this, saying that if you don't pass your 10th standard then ..
Sreenivasan Jain: I wont question this
Kanimozhi: This has created a revolution when it comes to the dropout rate among girls
Sreenivasan Jain: Ok, that is a targeted subsidy. Let me just finish, that is a targeted subsidy which is incentivising girl child education among the certain class. But TV sets, mixers and grinder, laptops?
Kanimozhi: Laptops, I think children need laptops, you can't say that. I mean people need it. It's an exposure. In '89 when we brought computer education, I think Tamil Nadu govt was the first govt that has brought it..
Sreenivasan Jain: I think improving the standard of education, improving the standard of health, improving the standard of all public services is very important?
Kanimozhi: I don't think Tamil Nadu lags behind in improving the standard of education. If you talk about health facilities we are among the top achievers. It is a state that has taken care of welfare schemes and it is a state that has vision for development. We have brought in more than Rs 60,000 crore investments into the state. Why don't you talk about that? You are talking about freebies only by DMK, why don't you question AIADMK, which has actually doubled it? Friends from the left who have been criticising this, they do it. Why don't you question the Kerala govt?
Sreenivasan Jain: We will question everybody..
Kanimozhi: You mean to say everybody is wrong?
Sreenivasan Jain: Yes, I think this has set off a competitive race. It is sort of a soft bribe to the voters.
Kanimozhi: It is not a bribe.
Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, we will not get into a longer debate on that, but do you feel that the party of Periyar, the party of Annadurai, would they have approved this? If they look at what is happening to DMK 30, 40 years down the line. Having to come down to giving these free gifts to voters?
Kanimozhi: Our founder leader, he said you see God in the smile of a poor man. So, our leader Dr Kalaignar said that till the last poor man is there, there will be welfare schemes in the state. So this is something that will make them smile. If you talk about five free eggs to the school kids, it is a thing for nutrition. One more thing, in India it's a very, very rare thing. No man shares work at home. But now a lot of women have to work and they are actually saddled with work at home and outside. Will a grinder or mixi cut down the number of hours they work or not? It will.
Sreenivasan Jain: I could debate with you on this for long but we are short of time.
Kanimozhi: No, please answer me. Will it allow them to cut the number of working hours?
Sreenivasan Jain: To me, where do you draw the line? Why stop at mixer, grinder? Virtuallyfill the house with every possible appliance. But let's move on. Overall money power is a worry in Tamil Nadu? The Election Commission has come out and said that Tamil Nadu is one of the most worrying states as far as the money power is concerned. Are you taking steps to ensure that we don't have incidents like what has happened here in the past? There have been lots of incidences of voters being bribed with cash.
Kanimozhi: There have been complaints of people being bribed in the last 30-40 years in different states of the country. Yes, it is something that everybody should be worried about. There were people being accused even before DMK was started. When the DMK was not that strong, people were accused of bribing people. So, how can you blame it on DMK and if Election Commission wants to put a ban on it, I mean you have a leader from the Opposition going around and saying that people will bribe you, please take the money. DMK won't talk like that.
Sreenivasan Jain: I wanted to ask you at the end. What do you make of Jayalalithaa as a politician? I know she is your political rival but at the same time she is one of the very rare women politicians in the state.
Kanimozhi: She is a very senior politician compared to me and it's nice to see a women politician stand there and survive.
Sreenivasan Jain: Is there anything you find redeeming about her?
Kanimozhi: She is a woman politician. I mean that is not an easy thing.
Sreenivasan Jain: That's true. Kanimozhi, how has your father responded to all that has happened in the last four months? He has not come out and spoken publicly about it. But has everything that has happened, upset him, does it bother him?
Kanimozhi: He has over 75 years of political career behind him and I'm sure he has seen much more than all this for him to be disturbed greatly by allegations, which are baseless.
Sreenivasan Jain: Even when all of this happened, CBI coming and question you because he is very fond of you. You have a very close relation. Did it bother him at all? Did it upset him?
Kanimozhi: He has seen much more. We have crossed worse time so I don't think things like this are going to affect him.
Sreenivasan Jain: And how have you taken all this, because like I was saying at the outset, you were not in active politics for a very long time? You finally decided to take the plunge at the time when the things were just exploding. Has any of this made you rethink that decision?
Kanimozhi: No, it has made me stronger. If things were better, maybe I would have thought of just going back. Definitely not, it has made me much stronger and here to stay.
Sreenivasan Jain: You are here to stay. You don't think what am I doing in politics? I should just go to Tamil Maiyam?
Kanimozhi: No, definitely, I mean I have never been. I mean always had so many other things to do in life as well. I will continue doing and pursuing other interests but I am here to stay. I will stay, fight and come out clean.
Sreenivasan Jain: Even though there is possibility now a CBI chargesheet is to be filed next week?
Kanimozhi: Lets stop speculating. Let the chargesheet come out.
Sreenivasan Jain: Even if your name is there on the chargesheet, you will fight it out you say?
Kanimozhi: Whatever it is I will stand and fight. I am here to stay.
Sreenivasan Jain: All right. Kanimozhi thanks very much indeed for answering all these questions frankly. I know it's a difficult time. It's been a very challenging past couple of months. But at least you have been candid enough and faced these questions. I wish you all the best for these elections. Thank you.