India Stalin-1617627449915
DMK Chief M.K. Stalin addresses during a roadshow ahead of the assembly elections, in Chennai on Sunday. Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party chief M.K. Stalin is confident of winning the Tamil Nadu state assembly elections and promises to give a corruption-free, investor-friendly and development-oriented government.

The DMK-led alliance is contesting all 234 seats on offer in tomorrow’s (April 6) elections in the state, which has the third-largest economy in India in terms of GDP. The veteran leader, who is facing the biggest challenge of his political career, said he would place Tamil Nadu firmly back on the growth path.

“People have decided to change this AIADMK government and are eagerly awaiting the return of people-friendly and development-oriented DMK government. I could see this from the overwhelming response given by people everywhere I visited over the last four months.

"I promise to give a corruption-free, investor-friendly and development-oriented government, which would place Tamil Nadu firmly back on the growth path,” Stalin, popularly known as Thalapathy (lieutenant), said in an exclusive email interview with Gulf News. He completed his campaign for what is perceived as one of the closely fought elections in recent years between arch-rivals DMK and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam).

Doyens

Both parties will be without their stalwart leaders, after the demise of the DMK doyen and Stalin’s father Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi and the AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalitha.

After a landslide victory for the DMK-led United Progressive Alliance in the 2019 Parliamentary elections, which won 39 out of the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, Stalin is leading the party in its first assembly elections.

The 68-year-old leader, undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic, travelled the length and the breadth of the state for the last four months to bring about the change and end a 10-year rule of the current AIADMK government.

S.S. Meeran, the Head of the UAE DMK wing, said: “The UAE holds a special place in the leader’s heart. He has visited the Emirates a number of times. I am optimistic about the party sweeping the elections with absolute majority.”

The DMK party president recently, in a tweet, offered his condolences on the death of the late Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the then Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.

One issue that’s weighing down the DMK is that the party is portrayed as an anti-Hindu party. However, the Stalin tried to set the record straight by saying: “DMK is a party which has championed the cause of social justice for the majority of Hindus and therefore, the DMK cannot be called or perceived as anti-Hindu,” the popular leader said, while addressing a variety of issues facing Tamil Nadu to his legion of followers in the UAE.

Apart from the battle on the political front, Stalin is facing a litmus test on a personal front. His son Udhayanidhi Stalin, DMK Youth Wing leader — a post Stalin himself once held — is contesting his first elections from the Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni constituency, a traditional DMK bastion.

Excerpts from the interview:

What measures you would initiate if you assume office and what will be your signature step, your top priority?

The AIADMK Government has failed on all fronts and corruption has become its hallmark. In order to revive the state from the AIADMK-enduced mess, we have released the “Vision Document” for next 10 years and Election Manifesto for 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly Election. Those two documents, together, contain a charter for ushering in inclusive development for the state in all spheres. My priority would be to implement these promises in letter and spirit. Immediately on assuming office, I will sign necessary orders to establish an official framework to resolve the issues in the petitions given by the people during my “Stalin in your constituency”.

You have been travelling a lot. What is the response of the people and based on their feedback, what have you decided to do?

Every section of the populace is experiencing untold sufferings and hardships in the past 10 years of AIADMK misrule. Never in the history of the state have people seen such a corrupt and inefficient government, which has pushed Tamil Nadu 50 years back in terms of administration, development, economy and fiscal situation.

People have decided to change this AIADMK government and are eagerly awaiting the return of people-friendly and development-oriented DMK government. I could see this from the overwhelming response given by the people everywhere I visited over the last four months. I promise to give a corruption-free, investor-friendly and development-oriented government, which would place Tamil Nadu firmly back on the growth path. I would ensure my government is transparent and from May 2 onwards, Tamil Nadu would be an ideal investment destination for the investors abroad.

What are the sectors you will focus on to get Tamil Nadu on the growth path?

I have listed this in the “Vision Document” which is given to the people as “Stalin’s Seven Assurances”. AIADMK government convened two Global Investors Meet but failed to take forward the MoUs executed in the meet. Chief Minister and Ministers toured abroad but no investment or industry came to Tamil Nadu as a result of such visits.

When DMK is given an opportunity to govern the state, I am planning to increase the state’s economy to Rs35 trillion (Dh1.753 trillion), giving stimulus package of Rs15 trillion for the Industries affected by COVID-19 pandemic, eradicating unemployment by creating five million employment opportunities over five years, providing separate budget for agriculture, restructuring the state finances and tripling the education and health care budget. I would say that all these measures would bring Tamil Nadu back again on the track of development and this would be my primary focus.

What is one message that your father gave to you that you would follow every day?

My leader, Dr Kalaignar, was akin to a university, in terms of how much we learnt from him. When I was elected as the Mayor of Chennai directly by the people, Kalaignar called me and advised me that, “Mayor is not a post but it is a responsibility”. That golden advice continues to resonate in my mind and is something I would follow always. My leader used to tell, “go to the people and work for them and be with the people”.

As the Opposition Leader of Tamil Nadu, I had worked for the people tirelessly. DMK is the only party, which went out with “Ondrinaivom Vaa” (Let’s join together) Programme to assist the people during the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. I would continue to follow the outreach programme of meeting the people more effectively and work for the welfare of the people of Tamil Nadu.

‘UDHAYANIDHI IS A DEDICATED WORKER’
It is not a surprise for any father who is in DMK to see that his son/daughter doing well in party-work. Udhayanidhi’s party work and campaign has appealed to the people of Tamil Nadu in the last Lok Sabha Election. Now, in the Assembly Election too, he has received a rousing welcome for his campaign across the state. Hard work is what is expected of any cadre in DMK. Udhayanidhi is no exception. His dedicated party work and tireless campaigning has even attracted the attention of the Prime Minister this time. His energy and enthusiasm has connected very well with voters, especially young people. As the President of DMK, I appreciate his dedication.

You and your party are perceived as 'anti-Hindu'? What is your reaction to it?

It is false propaganda. Arignar Anna articulated the slogan, “Ondre Kulam, Oruvane Devan”, which the DMK is following since its inception in 1949. DMK governments, led by Arignar Anna and Muthamizharignar Kalaignar too followed that motto.

I too will follow that. DMK is a party which has championed the cause of social justice for the majority of Hindus and therefore, the DMK cannot be called or perceived as anti-Hindu. In fact, DMK is the party, which has all along been respecting the sentiments of all — irrespective of religion, caste or creed and working towards creating an inclusive society, both when in opposition and while in government.

There are many Tamil NRIs in many parts of the world, will you do anything for their benefit from the state?

DMK has a lot of concern for NRIs and, recently, in fact the party has started a wing for facilitating NRIs also to become members. In the current election manifesto, it has promised to set up “NRI Tamils Department” under the Government of Tamil Nadu to look after their welfare and grievances. It includes helping NRIs who are affected abroad, providing basic needs for the families of those NRIs who die abroad and to assist with the livelihoods of the NRIs who return to India.

WIN_210405 STALIN NEW-1617627445940
Stalin, watched by his wife Durga Stalin and S.S. Meeran, receives an award from Ahmad Al Ameri, Chairman, Sharjah Book Authority in Sharjah in 2017.

Repatriation of bodies of deceased Tamils is currently being undertaken by the Embassy/Consulate and voluntary organisations. Will the state government do something towards absorbing the costs?

You have raised a good question. Offsetting costs involved in the repatriation of bodies of Tamils would definitely be considered by the “NRI Tamils Dept” to be set up under the Government of Tamil Nadu and this issue will be addressed. DMK is and will be the voice not only of Tamils living in India but also for the welfare, rights and dignity of NRI Tamils across the globe.

You have been opposing many central government projects like NEET, CAA. How will you try and reverse it?

NEET is against social justice principles. It is an entrance exam thrusted upon our students in the name of quality in Medical Education. Even before NEET, Tamil Nadu had produced highly efficient doctors who are serving the state, the nation and the world. Hence NEET robs the rights and opportunities of the rural as well as urban poor students, who cannot afford to go to coaching classes with heavy fees. NEET has denied opportunities to many young students and created divisions in society.

CAA is another divisive agenda, which was opposed tooth and nail by the DMK both in the parliament and outside. DMK has now promised to pass a legislation in the first session of Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly to annul the NEET and to pass a resolution in the Assembly urging withdrawal of CAA. DMK is the party, which abolished the entrance exam for professional courses in 2006 and we know how to annul NEET legally.