Tuesday, October 30, 2007

‘In the Tulsidas Ramayan, Sita is not Ram’s wife but his sister. Only in the Valmiki Ramayan is she his wife’

M Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu CM & DMK chief
Posted online: Monday, October 29, 2007 at 0000 hrs Print Email
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s recent statements on Lord Ram and the Sethusamudram project created a controversy. In this second part of an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7’s Walk the Talk, he says there is no scope left for political negotiation on a new alignment for the Sethusamudram project. He also talks about how bitter politics in Tamil Nadu has become and why he thinks highly of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister V.P. Singh
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• Do you think that, over the last 10-15 years, coalition politics has been the antidote to the poison of separatism?
Coalition is a temporary arrangement. It is not a permanent solution. We cannot say it is an antidote. But because of coalitions, we have been able to get some of our demands fulfilled. To that extent coalitions have been useful. Sethusamudram, the Salem steel plant, Neyveli Lignite Corporation — these are issues we raised in the past. But nobody bothered. They have begun to show concern now. We had asked for projects like the Bhakra Nangal dam here in the south. We wanted poverty to be eradicated here. Now we are able to get poverty-eradication schemes implemented here. Our aspirations are being fulfilled. Even the demand for classical language status for Tamil — which we never thought it would be given — has been conceded. When we are getting what we want, where is the need for separatism?
• So the cure is a federal government, which will require a new Constitution. You mentioned the Sethusamudram project. Were you surprised how big an issue it became?
Not merely surprised! Those who wanted it are the ones who are now opposing it. Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP sanctioned the project when he was prime minister. Now the BJP is against the project.
• The BJP set the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal rolling too. Now it is opposing the deal.
• So politics is like that. But this whole . . .
There should be no politics on certain issues. If someone politicises projects taken up in the national interest, he is a politician and not a statesman.
• But this is not just politics; this is also religion.
No, no. Where is religion in this?
• Well, because there’s a belief that Ram Sethu was the bridge built by Lord Ram.
I’m not a detractor of Ram. Let them keep Ram. I am no enemy of Ram. I have even written about this. Was the Ram issue raised when Vajpayee sanctioned the scheme? Or when three or four BJP ministers, in charge of surface transport, passed orders and chose the sixth alignment? It was not raised at that stage.
• You say Vajpayee approved it (the Sethusamudram channel project). But now it has become a religious issue because people will say that this bridge was constructed by Lord Ram. Lots of people believe in that; they think it’s sacrilege to cut through the bridge (for the Sethusamudram project).
It is not necessary to cut through this bridge. But let me ask: why can’t we cut the bridge even if it is named after Ram? Why can’t we cut through this bridge for the good of the people and build a new one? Jawaharlal Nehru did not accept Ram (as a divine being); he calls him a hero, not a god. C. Rajagopalachari wrote a book called Chakravarthi Thirumagan (The Emperor’s Blessed Son) that says Ram is a prince, not a god. It is not as if only the DMK is saying it.
• I understand that what you say is that Nehru called Ram a hero, not a god. Similarly, Rajagopalachari called him a great prince, not a god. But Nehru used to go to the Ramlila in New Delhi and fold his hands before (the idol).
That’s different. I am a chief minister. If there’s a festival in a Ram temple, do I stop it?
• But will you go to one of those festivals if invited?
Oh yes! (Laughs) Muslims invite us and we go. Christians invite us and we go. Why can’t we go when Hindus invite us? There’s nothing wrong.
• In one of your statements you asked that if this bridge (the Ram Sethu) was built by Lord Ram, then which engineering college did he go to.
It was said in lighter vein. Why make an issue of it.
• I’m not making an issue. All I’m saying is that what’s said in lighter vein is not taken in lighter vein because these are very sensitive issues.
They are using it deliberately for propaganda, as if I had hurt their sentiments. It is not true. In an election campaign, Periyar (founder of the Dravida movement) asked people in every street to beat Ram. I don’t want to elaborate, but what happened? He asked people to break idols of Pillayar (Lord Ganesh). But Anna said he would neither break Ganesh idols nor break coconuts in offering before gods. Recently, some 4,000 idols of Ganesh were immersed in the sea. Did we stop it? On the contrary, we provided police protection. In a sense, isn’t Ganesh considered greater than Ram?
• People in the Congress are not happy. They think you made a statement that the Valmiki Ramayan describes Lord Ram as a drunkard.
Yes, please read it. Even now I say that Valmiki has written that. What does Valmiki say? He says, ‘Hanuman tells Sita that because of being separated from her Ram has not touched any liquor.’ Tell me, does this not figure in Valmiki? I’ll show you Valmiki (Ramayan).
• Have you read the Valmiki Ramayan?
Yes. The Valmiki Ramayan and the Tulsidas Ramayan too. In fact, in the Tulsidas Ramayan, Sita is not Ram’s wife but his sister. Only in the Valmiki Ramayan is she his wife. In many versions of Ramayan, she is his sister.
• What will the solution to Sethusamudram problem be? Are you open to the idea of another alignment?
The matter is in the Supreme Court. We are waiting for that.
• Yes, but as a political negotiation, will you be open to the idea of a different alignment?
It’s not possible.
• The Congress has conveyed its concern to you about your Lord Ram statements, saying, ‘Look, in the south it’s okay . . .’
If you want to create a rift between us and the Congress, you will not succeed.•
Hasn’t the Congress told you that you have given the BJP something to talk about? No, I’m not saying anything about a rift. Parties can talk to each other.
No, I haven’t given the BJP any issue to raise. There’s no reason for me to do it. The BJP is talking on its own. The people of Tamil Nadu won’t accept what the BJP says. This the land of Periyar, of Anna.
• Yes, but at the same time, the Congress is worried that this will affect . . .
No, it’s not worried. Only you are worried (laughs).
• The Congress tells us it is worried. Do you see the situation getting defused in Supreme Court or do you see there’s room for political negotiation outside the Supreme Court on Sethusamudram?
It’s only for the Supreme Court to decide. There is nothing for us to say. We are waiting for the Supreme Court’s judgement.
• This is very interesting. You are placing so much faith in the Supreme Court. Just a few weeks back you had a brush with the Supreme Court (over the DMK protests and your fast on the Sethusamudram issue). A judge got very angry.
Once upon a time, there was an old lady who was very sick. There was a child who prayed to God every day. But she dies. Does it mean they will not pray any more? The Supreme Court is like that.
• You may not believe in God. But I like the way . . .
I believe in only one god.
• Which god do you believe in?
My conscience.
• It is fascinating that you nevertheless use that comparison (about God and praying and the Supreme Court). But what was your reaction to the Supreme Court’s strong remarks (about the DMK’s bandh call and yourprotest fast). Do you think you deserved those remarks or were they undeserved?
If I answer your question, it would mean what the court said about me is true.
• That’s very well said. You know, so many very senior politicians in the Congress and other parties told me that I would find that you have one of the sharpest minds in politics. I think they were so right.
• There has been so much speculation, analysis, guesswork . . . tell me what happened in the case of Dayanidhi Maran?
I don’t want to speak about it.
• Tell me exactly what happened?
Nothing, nothing.
• He is your nephew. How painful was it for you?
I generally don’t discuss personal matters.
• But you think it is a forgotten chapter now?
I don’t consider anything a closed chapter.
• I see. Is there still hope for Dayanidhi Maran tomorrow if he did prayaschit or penance?
I am not ready to answer these questions now.
• What is the reason? You answer everything but avoid this.
It’s because there is scope for such unanswerable questions too.
• Why is Tamil Nadu politics so bitter? Why do people - you and Jayalalithaa, in this case, the two main parties - you are not even on talking terms. It is very bitter and very vicious. Why is it so? Was it so earlier?
In Tamil Nadu, things were all right till the time of MGR. He started a party against me, but we remained friends. Even though we were leaders of different parties, we were friends. However, after MGR, the party leadership began to hate us and abjured us. Kamaraj and I, Bhakthavatchalam (former Congress chief minister) and I were friends. R. Venkataraman and I are friends even today. So in Tamil Nadu, except for a party called the AIADMK, the others are all very friendly.
• And do you regret it?
Certainly. Not because that single person is unfriendly. But I regret that Tamil Nadu politics has come to this.
• Sir, you are the senior-most politician in India, not just in Tamil Nadu. Would you take the initiative someday to bring down this bitterness so that people can fight elections, fight in the Assembly, but have a decent relationship?
In 1967, there was a big (electoral) fight. We defeated Kamaraj. Bhakthavatchalam was defeated, R. Venkataraman was defeated. Anna became chief minister. All of us went to Kamaraj’s residence and took his blessings. We also went to Bhakthavatchalam’s house.
That was how we conducted ourselves. We showed no disdain towards the losers. But today people gloat over their victory. It is the AIADMK under Madam that has caused so much bitterness. She castigates me in her statements every day, calls me names. It would look very silly if I took up the initiative you suggest. But because you advise me, maybe I should go to her house and try to make up! When I, as chief minister, went to pay homage to Nedunchezhian (DMK stalwart who switched loyalties to the AIADMK), AIADMK members wielded broomsticks against us. Such is their culture.
• But would you appeal to her (Jayalalithaa)? Would you advise her that this is not the right thing. Would you appeal to her and say, ‘Let’s bring back some decency in our politics’?
There are several leaders here — Ramadoss (of the PMK), communist leaders, and even L. Ganesan of the BJP. Look how I treat them and how friendly they are to me. She is the only one (who is unfriendly). No, we cannot advise her.
• Before you go, let me ask you one thing. You dealt with many great political figures at the Centre. You shared power with Mr Vajpayee, and are now sharing power with Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. You knew Jawaharlal Nehru, you knew Rajiv Gandhi to some extent, and also Indira Gandhi. Tell us your impressions of the people you met at the Centre. Whom did you find really remarkable or great.
V.P. Singh.
• Why do you think so highly of V.P. Singh?
Social reforms, reservation, the Mandal Commission. Since then we are friends.
• What about Mr Vajpayee?
Vajpayee is a very good man.
• Will you tell us some story from Vajpayee’s times, some conversations that you had? I am told you are a great storyteller. You are the great Kalaignar, so you should tell us a story.
Once during a TESO (Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation) conference in Madurai, Nedumaran, Dr Subramanian Swamy and all had gathered. On that occasion, Vajpayee spoke in support of the LTTE. After that, because of change in circumstances, he withdrew from it. On many occasions, Vajpayee has been very kind to me. One reason for my relationship with Vajpayee getting stronger was Murasoli Maran. Vajpayee had great regard for Maran when he was a cabinet minister. And therefore for me too.
• Mr Vajpayee spoke in support of the LTTE?
Yes. During the Emergency, we also addressed meetings together.
• Who do you rate as a better prime minister —- V.P. Singh, Deve Gowda, Manmohan Singh? How do you rank them?
All of them are good. When Vajpayee was prime minister, new rules were framed prohibiting construction on the coast. When we wanted to build a memorial to Kamaraj in Kanyakumari, permission was denied. However, when I told Vajpayee that the memorial was for Kamaraj, he sanctioned it. Even now you can see the building in Cape Comorin.
• What’s your view on Dr Manmohan Singh as a prime minister?
A very good man.
• And Sonia Gandhi as a politician? You did not know Rajiv Gandhi so well, and I think that with Indira Gandhi you had a hostile relationship. She (Sonia) is the first Gandhi you are friends with.
What impressed me most was when she gave up the prime minister’s post.
• But would she make a good prime minister?
If she becomes prime minister, she will be a good prime minister.
• You have no objections to her becoming prime minister?
No, no. Even then I had said she should be the prime minister.
• In the three years that you have known her, have you been surprised by her maturity, her understanding of politics?
She has developed well as a political leader. She is a good administrator. She is ensuring an honest government. She has the capacity to nurture a big party.
• Before I let you go, if you would say a word . . . if you can just give me a sense of what India, Tamil Nadu, and the world look like to you after seven decades in politics? Are you happy? Are you unhappy? Do you see a lot of work having been done or do you see a lot more work still to be done?
Even after a good night’s sleep, when you wake up at 6 a.m., you feel like sleeping a little more. That is how I feel (laughs).
• That’s a wonderful note to conclude this on. Sir, thank you very much. You have been very generous with you time. And you have been generous with your laughter, which is so wonderful.editor@expressindia.com

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