Published Date: March 29, 2019
He is a leader who doesn’t give you the air of being one. DMK Spokesperson P Thiaga Rajan, who entered politics in 2014 after having worked 20 years as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers in New York and Standard Chartered in Singapore, is decidedly candid. Third-generation leader, Thiaga Rajan been credited for the upsurge in DMK’s social media presence.
This 52-year-old MLA from Madurai Central, who is tipped to be the Finance Minister, when DMK comes to power in the state, is confident of DMK and its allies win. He believes Tamilians will not fall for PM Modi’s hype and that they have seen through BJP’s divisiveness and maladministration.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are the issues which will decide the fate of the current government in the current elections?
The track record of the Modi government in Delhi and AIADMK government has been extremely disappointing. They promised several things but delivered nothing. It begins with them claiming that they would stop black money, ensure that ₹5 lakh would be transferred to every voter’s bank accounts, better economy, more jobs – all of this didn’t happen, but through ill-informed policy decisions such as demonetisation and faulty GST implementation he worsened the state of the economy. The banking loan mess happened under their watch. They allowed more bad loans to pile up. It’s one to thing to not make the economy better, but to make it actively worse is on them.
PM Narendra Modi is perceived to be extremely anti-Tamil Nadu. He has scant regard for us; when there were natural disasters, he didn’t appear and only shows up for campaigning. He forces all kinds of laws down our throat without any respect for our sense of identity. Moreover, he went ahead and changed the names of names of schemes in Hindi and Sanskrit, which most people in Tamil Nadu cannot even understand.
Both the state and Central governments have been particularly inept when it comes to farmers. They have no long-term solutions to the farmer crisis as it’s the most volatile and capital-intensive segment. By the lack of access to unsecured credit, the people who are farming are the same ones who don’t have the capacity to ride the volatility of farming. The system fails in ensuring that the problems of the smaller farmers are solved. What we need is a comprehensive risk management system, but the solutions being offered are all piecemeal. So, the real issue is that neither the BJP government at the Centre, nor the AIADMK-led state government want to address this with all the complexities involved.
How has the AIADMK government fared in Tamil Nadu?
Their major failure has been the mismanagement of the state’s finances and the economy. There is always a major turning point in history the country’s and state’s finances. According to the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act passed in 2003, a government shouldn’t spend more than what is in the revenue account, so that there is zero revenue deficit. Tamil Nadu was doing that from 2003 to 2014. But, in 2014 after the landmark conviction of J Jayalalithaa, the state finances began to deteriorate. And this year, Tamil Nadu has spent almost 19% of its revenue just paying interest which has soared. All of this is in four years. This year, the state has borrowed 1.5% of its GDP just to cover its revenue deficit and therefore it isn’t investing in capital at all. The consequence is that growth has slowed steadily,and as a result jobs have not been created either.
Additionally, AIADMK has completely caved in to the BJP. For all her other faults, Jayalalithaa was a great federalist. She refused to bow down to the Centre, stood for state rights and ensured the state was protected. The guys ruling the state now owe their illegitimate existence to the BJP. This government has not had majority since December 2016, but because they have been kept alive by the BJP, they have rolled over backwards to accommodate Modi. The people of Tamil Nadu did not vote for an EPS or OPS, they voted for Jayalalithaa who died under mysterious circumstances. This government will not stand once DMK wins with a majority in the Lok Sabha elections.
General maladministration and extreme corruption will be the deciding factors in the state polls this year. My worry is that the corruption has gotten so bad that it’s almost irreversible. Once the core is spoilt, then how do you reverse it?
They are creating monsters which can buy and sell governments. This is making politics only about money.
AIADMK has aligned with BJP, what do you think are their prospects?
The two parties aligning was inevitable. This alliance has clarified to the public what the role of BJP was in the installing a weak government.
The question before them is, ‘Do you want a government who will stand for Tamil rights, democracy, secularism or do you want the dictators in Delhi and their minions in Tamil Nadu to rule over the state illegitimately?’.
I expect this to be a street election. We know that AIADMK and BJP have unleashed unheard of amounts into this election. This is an election which will be about money power vs the emotions of the people.
Tamil Nadu is one of more literate states and so the question is whether people can be fooled again.
What do you think are the prospects of the DMK-led alliance?
This is our election to win. I would think the alliance would win 32+ seats. And this is the result of the lowest survey, with every other survey predicting more. But, in the end one never knows. The C-voter survey found out that Tamil Nadu’s E Palaniswami was one of the worst functioning CM, just above Goa and J&K and PM Modi’s rating is also only in single digits. Under these circumstances, it means that the voters are pretty disgusted with them. The AIADMK-BJP coalition is less than the sum of its parts. After all, BJP is like an infectious disease. In most cases, people would have stayed away.
We are one of calmer, secular states and we are seeing a level of intolerance and fundamentalism being pushed through by him. He did such a marketing con job that most people in Tamil Nadu are angry at him and see him for his true colours. He is a victim of his own hype and has wrong values compared to most of us. The anger in the state is palpable and this is my observation after having travelled to more than 100 gram sabhas in the state.
In these five years, how has BJP’s performance been?
The performance of the Modi government has been miserable. Look at the state of the finances. They have messed up the economy, destroyed jobs, and changed the nature of taxation. There are direct and indirect taxes. Direct taxes can be made progressive; if you are richer, you can pay more and if you are poorer, you pay less. Indirect taxes, you can’t control who pays it,such as the VAT, excise duties. Though it is claimed to be a flat rate, its effect is different on various economic groups. Indirect taxes are regressive and ends up being a much more net-effective tax on the middle class and the poorer sections. Direct taxes can be made progressive. If you buy a car worth ₹5 lakh, the tax to be paid can be 2%, if the car costs ₹1 crore, then the tax must be 20%. You must make people who have money pay. Of course, direct tax is more difficult to collect and indirect tax is a wider net, but these can’t be reasons.
A fair rate of taxation is 60% direct and 40% indirect taxes. When Dr Manmohan Singh was leaving office, we were at 55% direct and 45% indirect taxes. After these people came to power, they have driven it completely the other way. The BJP government is addicted to indirect taxes. As the crude oil prices kept dropping, they kept increasing the taxes. The entire government is run on excise duties. As a percentage of the total revenue collection, excise on energy products went from 11% to 18-19%. This changed the ratio. Direct taxes are now only 40-42% and indirect taxes are about 58%. This government has hurt the lower and middle class much more than the upper class. This comes after demonetisation and GST which broke the back of several businesses.
The value system of the BJP is also there for everyone to see — it is pro-rich and anti-poor.
If BJP comes to power, what is the threat we fear?
The real risk if they come back to power is not the screwing up of the economy, it is the question of whether we still be the democracy that our founders envisioned. Here is a man who has systematically dismantled every check and balance in democracy. After subjugating institutions, he has broken his party. It used to be said that the BJP was a democratic party, but the rise of Modi proves otherwise. In no other party would a man who would promote himself so much grow this way. Now, one can only see Modi and Shah and to a certain extent Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal, both of whom cannot win an election and owe their existence to him.