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'The Congress is dying in Tamil Nadu'

By Shobha Warrier
April 18, 2006 14:04 IST
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At one point in time, Tindivanam Ramamurthy was president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee but that didn't save him from expulsion for meeting Chief Minister Jayalalitha and speaking on Jaya TV, since it went against party diktat and also 'hurt' its ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Ramamurthy walked out with many of his supporters and started his own party, like many of his predecessors in the past. His is now the Tamil Nadu Indira Congress. When dropped by the small office for a visit, it was full of party workers celebrating Ramamurthy's birthday.

In a frank interview to Shobha Warrier, Ramamurthy spoke about, among other things, the reasons behind his expulsion, the future of his party and what, in his view, ails the Congress.

Were you dissatisfied with the way the Congress was moving?

My contention was that the Congress in Tamil Nadu was losing its identity. There is no political identity to the party now. The Tamil Nadu Congress is known for its self-respect. Even the split in 1969 was based on self-respect because the state Congress was not properly recognised by the All India Congress Committee.

You mean the disintegration began way back in 1969?

Yes. Until Kamaraj was around, the Congress in Tamil Nadu had an identity and self-respect. It is only in Tamil Nadu that Indira Gandhi could not succeed because the entire Congress stood by Kamaraj. Six months or so before Kamaraj died, Indira Gandhi began negotiations with him to bring all Congressmen together under her. Fortunately of unfortunately, he died before this could materialise. I must say that Indira and Rajiv Gandhi understood the situation in Tamil Nadu to a great extent, and could help the party grow…

But, among the southern states, it is in Tamil Nadu that the Congress is weakest. It always has to piggyback on a Dravidian party during the elections…

The split in 1969 went very deep and, unfortunately, except for Kamaraj, all other leaders stood by Indira Gandhi – C Subramanyam, Azhagesan, Bhaktavatsalam…All the party workers stood by Kamaraj though. That means the leaders had no links with the cadres in Tamil Nadu. After Kamaraj, the two Congresses -- Congress (O) and Congress (I) – merged, but the fight within the party continued. It was taken advantage of by the Dravidian parties; then there was only the DMK.

You were also a senior leader with the party.

At that time, I was not…

But you were later the TNCC president.

The problem is it is only the people at the helm of affairs who decide these things. I became president only after G K Moopanar left the party. Till then, I was only a general secretary, Rajya Sabha member or Lok Sabha member. I had my limitations.

But as a Congressman, could you not raise your voice?

As a Congressman, I was always fighting for our self-respect. That is why they are against me. They don't want people who try to establish themselves and assert themselves.

Why is it that the All India Congress Committee does not want the party in Tamil Nadu to grow?

They are keen on getting only a few Parliament members. It is easier to get a few members from here with the help of a Dravidian party. Even if their share is less, the partners will also support them at the Centre. So, as far as the Congress in Delhi is concerned, it is only the 39 parliament seats from Tamil Nadu that really matter. For that, they want to cajole the DMK or AIADMK.

Why was the AICC against you?

In my case, I was not against the alliance; I wasn't even worried about the numbers. The Congress is almost written off in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, which command about 124 seats in the assembly of 234 seats. Even in the south, those who have been supporting the Congress are being neglected.


The Thevars, Nadars and many other communities. It looks as if the Congress has been giving itself up and running into the hands of very few people who dominate the state economically, caste-wise and socially. Altogether, the Congress has become a party of vested interests.

What was the AICC's reaction when you tried to tell them this?

They could not understand the realities, and were not willing to listen. They live in a dream world.

What kind of dream world?

Their feeling is, why do we bother about this? We have the government at the centre. And they enjoy all pleasures whenever they come here. They behave as if they are the royal guests if they come from Delhi as AICC members and speak Hindi! And they are treated that way by those managing the show here.

Do you feel that till the AICC continues to thrust people on the state, the party will not grow here?

No, it will never. Are you not seeing it even now? All political parties in Tamil Nadu released the list of their candidates several days ago, but not the Congress. Even Sonia Gandhi was not in a position to release the list. What is the fight going on in front of the AICC office and at Satyamurthi Bhavan [the state headquarters]? The cadres roaming the streets of Delhi are abusing AICC office-bearers. What are the charges against them? Right from taking money, to everything [else]. Whether it is true or not, that's the way it is. Your own cadres, your own people are saying this.

You mean those who are at the top cannot understand those at the bottom?

Their needs are different. They want the central government at any cost, for their own purposes. They are getting that by supporting the DMK. So, it is a question of appeasing the DMK at the cost of your own party. I feel there is no Congress left here, only an opportunistic one. I have been a fighter and I know Congressmen will stand with me to fight.

You were for an alliance with the AIADMK, were you not?

The situation here is a DMK alliance versus an AIADMK alliance. When I thought of the AIADMK, it was friendless. There was no party to support them. The Congress has been subjected to the dictatorial attitude of the DMK, and state leaders like [G K] Vasan preferred it that way. They want to project Karunanidhi and the DMK at the cost of the central government. It is I who said this was wrong.

I felt the Congress could preserve its self-respect if it allied with the AIADMK. I was demanding an alliance government in the state. Unless we prove ourselves, nobody will give you respect. I tried for power sharing with the hope that the self-respect of the Congress would be restored.

But the AIADMK was not in favour of sharing power, was it?

They were not ready to share power. They were not ready to ally with my Congress party either.

When did you meet Jayalalitha?

I didn't ask for a meeting. The chief minister sent information that she would like to meet me. I met her only as a Congressman, not after I started my party. I was expelled from the party only after I met her. I was expelled for having met her, for speaking on Jaya TV. Those were the charges against me. Those are the words used against me in the letter sent to me. That I met the chief minister, and gave an interview to the press that has disturbed the DMK alliance. I hadn't said anything against the Congress leadership. I had only asserted the rights of the party, but it was not taken in the right spirit.

After starting my party, she has not called me.

Where do you think the TNCC will go after the elections?

That Congress will slowly be wound up. It will die soon because you see only rowdies at Satyamurthi Bhavan. There is no leader to control the party. Delhi is not in a position to control it either.

In this state, the Congress party is losing its identity and dying. I would say the disintegration of the Congress as a whole will start from Tamil Nadu. So, rebirth too has to take place here because the Congress was born here in Tamil Nadu 100 years ago. It's a disease that has started here, and it will spread everywhere. Then, you will see a new man, new power coming up to lead the Congress party.

Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Shobha Warrier