‘Absolutely Discriminatory’: Nirmala Sitharaman Calls Out DMK Narrative, Says Momentum With BJP – News18

There is momentum for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the ground in Tamil Nadu, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Saturday, exuding confidence that her party would do well in the southern state in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

In an interview with CNN-News18, she also touched upon a wide range of talking points — from electoral bonds to the perceived north-south divide and the opposition’s allegations of misuse of probe agencies.

Launching a scathing attack on Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by Chief Minister MK Stalin, she accused it of creating “myths” for its own gains. She also said the Congress was reduced to playing second fiddle to the DMK in the state. Edited excerpts:

Q. The perception that the DMK and the Congress party have tried to build is that Tamil Nadu is a territory that cannot be breached by the BJP. Yet, Mission South is very integral to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ideology — and yours as well. Do you think this is a bastion that can be breached?

A: Undoubtedly, it can be breached. You can see the momentum on the ground. You can see how people are responding. It is largely because of the attention the Prime Minister pays to Tamil Nadu and its development. Women in villages are talking about how they have got toilets. They also got cooking gas. They are very clear that their houses are being built through the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana. And so on.

So not only the Prime Minister at his level is giving attention to Tamil Nadu, but the execution of projects at the level of households is also visible. The Congress party has absolutely forfeited its rights in Tamil Nadu. And it is playing only second fiddle to one of the Dravidian parties [the DMK].

So, as a national party, the Congress party is not able to stand up on its own and say what is in the interest of Tamil Nadu and what is in the interest of the country. Whereas the BJP says if the entire country has to develop and we have to reach the level of the third-largest global economy, we need every state of India to grow. Even without an MP [of the BJP] from here, the PM’s message is he wants every state to develop. So should Tamil Nadu.

Q: The criticism which comes from the Dravidian parties is that the BJP is a north party trying to impose its language, and its culture. Would you, as someone who belongs from here, want to issue a clarification?

A: Hundred per cent. And that is part of the Dravidian myth-creating effort. They always look at North Indians and Hindi. All of us are part of this country. And in this country’s history, Tamil Nadu’s contribution is not the property of any one party. The DMK cannot say it is “us who kept up the Tamil”.

Absolutely discriminatory, differentiating — and a separatist ideology is the Dravidian ideology. As a result, you find them always speaking of north versus south, Hindi versus Tamil or, you know, outsiders versus locals. They like to keep it within themselves.

So, they are the arbiters of who is a native Tamil as opposed to who has come from outside. These are very clear wedges which they drove into the Tamil society. People are clearly rejecting it. And they’re not even democratic. They’re highly dynastic. It’s only their family that is seen in politics; common Tamil people are not seen.

Q: The Katchatheevu issue is being dismissed by the Chief Minister and the Congress party as a diversionary tactic by the BJP. They say national interest is not the thekedari of the BJP.

A: National interest may not be the thekedari [read ownership] of the BJP, just as I am trying to say that Tamil Nadu is not the thekedari of the DMK. What is their contribution to national cultural heritage or the spirit of nationalism? It is not for nothing that we have raised this issue.

When Katchatheevu was given [to Sri Lanka in 1974], then Tamil Nadu chief minister [late DMK doyen] Karunanidhi knew fully about it, but he didn’t inform the people of the state. He kept it to himself. And not even a symbolic protest was held. That was the truth then. But why did we raise it now? The fact has to be brought out. They gave it away knowingly.

Tamil fishermen had been fishing in that area based on their traditional right to fish. What has happened is after the Katchatheevu handover, the traditional fishing rights have also been diluted considerably. Because you muddied the water then by giving away or diluting the traditional fishing rights, you are not able to resolve the fishermen’s issue with Sri Lanka even today.

When the DMK was an ally and partner of the UPA government, a minister went ahead with banning [bull-taming sport] Jallikattu in the name of cruelty to animals. Jallikattu is an inherent part of Tamil Nadu. You were a party to that UPA. Your government came up with banning Jallikattu.

You were an alliance partner, DMK. You didn’t protest. So what are you talking about? Tamil interest or national interest? Neither are you a thekedar of Tamil interest nor are you a thekedar of national interest. Jallikattu was restored thanks to the honourable Prime Minister. Because he fought in the Supreme Court and restored it as a cultural symbol of Tamil Nadu.

Q: You must have had a look at the Congress manifesto. It talks about the right to work. It talks about the rights of minorities. The PM has said it speaks the language of division and that of the Muslim League. This has of course outraged Rahul Gandhi as well as the Congress party.

A: I wish he was outraged much before these matters were put into his manifesto. He should have seen the draft and said, “No, I shall not approve this”. Just like an ordinance, he tore when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was outside the country. He said, “No, I don’t want this.” Should he not tear the manifesto?

Q: Do you think the INDIA front can be an alternative or even a threat or a challenge to the NDA?

A: I don’t think they are a challenge. However, every election is a serious matter for the BJP. We will have to take every challenge at the state level and at the national level seriously and address them. And that is why we want our campaign to be a lot more robust — reach out to every section of our society and talk to them about the difficulties.

Q: What do you feel about the caste census? That’s clearly the fulcrum of Rahul Gandhi’s thinking.

A: In other words, their aim is not to reach out to people irrespective of their caste. The [Opposition’s] aim is to go on perpetrating this narrative, saying, “Oh, there is this backwardness which needs to be addressed — only which comes out of a caste census.”

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi is saying, “Look, if I address women, every caste gets included.” Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes. If I address youth and give them solutions, every section will be covered. The same goes for farmers. While he is trying to build an India where everybody will get benefits, some are talking about caste because they want to keep the difference alive. That’s a very negative way of thinking about making a difference in Indian society.

Q: You have K Kavitha behind the bars. You have Arvind Kejriwal behind the bars. And the entire INDIA front is saying that your government misuses ED/CBI to target political opponents.

A. Where was CBI during the UPA rule? It was described as a caged parrot. CBI, Enforcement Directorate and other investigative authorities were all curtailed completely.

They were clearly instructed not to move forward at all. And I would very clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, tell you they were kept like that because had they been given their due freedom to operate independently without political interference, the first people to be targeted would have been those in power.

Because you had a scam per day, a big-ticket scam coming out every day. So they knew if only the agencies were given independence, the first of the lot would be their own ministers. Now, the caged parrot under Prime Minister Modi is given its independence, the due independence that an enforcement agency should have.

So, obviously, they are going where they smell wrongdoing. And that is why I say when ED or CBI go and do a survey or a search, they don’t go empty-handed. They go with enough proof to say they had credible information to act.

Q. You think it’s okay for the Delhi CM to work from behind bars? He says the laws don’t stop him from doing so.

A: Of course, laws don’t stop him from doing so. Laws also didn’t expect a chief minister to be behind bars after eight summonses were rejected by him. Our Constitution-makers were so good that they had faith in people who would come to public service; they didn’t think that people reaching these high offices would be put in jail, and there would be a constitutional question of whether you could be a chief minister functioning from behind the bars. We are probably betraying the faith.

Q. Electoral bonds. Much politics has been done over it. but your government and your party are being attacked. There have been allegations of quid pro quo.

A: Electoral bonds were a law made through Parliament. It was accepted that this would be better than what was prevailing earlier. What was prevailing earlier was a free-for-all.

Anyone could carry a bag full of cash, or a suitcase full of cash and not say where he earned it from, but give it to the political party — and the political party could be happily spending it all.

The intent of [late BJP leader] Arun Jaitley and Prime Minister Modi at that time was to at least bring in some kind of bank account-driven system, wherein only white money would come into politics. So the bond issuer and the bond beneficiary both had recorded transactions. Today, the Supreme Court in its wisdom says well this is not right. We’ll follow it.

Q: Last question: Robert Vadra or Rahul Gandhi from Amethi?

A: You must tell me one thing. I’m told — and this is just the buzz in the town — that he [Rahul] wouldn’t announce his candidature in Amethi before polling is completed in Wayanad [Rahul’s seat in Kerala].

Because he doesn’t want the people of Wayanad to think, “Oh well, he’s not going to be here. We may as well give it [the seat] to somebody else.” And after that, he’s going to smartly announce that he is going to Amethi. So confirm that for me.