In the glamour-ridden Kazhagam of MGR that rules Tamil Nadu, the ousted minister S.D. Somasundaram was a misfit in more than one way. The most striking trait that distanced him from the leaders of the AIADMK, some of whom imagine they are still under technicolour arc lights, is his simplicity. To an interviewer SDS, as he is popularly known, is a delightful experience. Answers come easily to the most embarrassing questions and there is always the tender coconut milk to wet the raw edges in an otherwise unpleasant task of explaining the why's of his actions. This correspondent met SDS twice – first when he was still in office and again after he was ousted by MGR. The following are extracts from both the sessions.
Q: What are your plans now that you are out of the party and the cabinet?
A: I will have to consult my friends and take a decision. If they want me to start a new party, I will do that.
Q: How will your party be different from the DMK and the AIADMK?
A: There will be no difference in the basic principles. Annaism and Periyar’s ideals will be our guidelines too. But the difference will be that my party will not make the mistakes done by the other two.
Q: Do you envisage an exodus from the DMK and the AIADMK into your party?
A: Whether those men come or not, I am sure my party will attract a lot of new elements into it. The public is bound to welcome my party which will herald a fresh change from dirty politics.
Q: Will you welcome leaders from the DMK and the AIADMK if they come?
A: It all depends on who wants to come.
Q: You have leveled corruption charges against the AIADMK leaders and they have in turn charged you with corruption while you were a minister. Who is speaking the truth?
A: People know who is speaking the truth. All you need to do is to go out and ask them.
Q: What role do you envisage for your party.
A: My party will fulfill Anna’s ideals, such as creation of a classless and caste less society where the needs of the poor will be tackled with sincerity.
Q: The DMK and the AIADMK too have said they were launched to fulfill the same ideals. How do you say you will succeed better than them?
A: Wait and see.
Q: Will you seek an entry for your party in the DMK-led opposition front?
A: I can’t say now. We will have to think about it.
Q: How do you compare the present AIADMK split to the exit of MGR from the DMK in 1972, hurling corruption charges against the Karunanidhi administration?
A: There are similarities, no doubt. And Chief Minister MGR was the first to admit that fact. MGR had blamed Karunanidhi for corruption in 1972 and again it was the same MGR who announced, in a marriage function about a couple of months ago, that the AIADMK itself is full of liquor barons and corrupt elements. He had then declared he would cleanse his party of such corrupt elements. So you can see that the AIADMK today is in the same state as MGR said the DMK was in the year 1972.
Q: Do you say that all the ministers in the MGR cabinet are corrupt?
A: I have said that some of them are corrupt.
Q: The executive committee of the AIADMK, while recommending your sack, had complained that you had only been making allegations of corruption but had not supplied the chief minister with the necessary proof, despite his asking for it several times. Why did you make wild accusations that cannot be proved?
A: Can I give proof? Will the giver and the receiver of bribe tell me about their unholy transaction? I can only tell him (MGR) about the nature of the corruption that is taking place. And even by that, it indirectly means that he himself is corrupt. When I brought all that to his notice, I was only reflecting public opinion. Can I prove all that I tell him? Is it possible? On the other hand, as the chief minister, he can easily verify the information I gave to him. He has the official machinery at his disposal. Also, he himself knows about all these things. And yet, if there is no action taken, will the chief minister himself not become suspect in the public eye? I only told him to avoid that situation.
Q: MGR had formed a high-level committee recently to go into corruption charges against ministers and MLAs. Why were you not satisfied with that?
A: The party cannot be cleansed by that committee. There is no guarantee that this committee will function in an honest manner. It is an eyewash committee and it will be of no use to take action against persons in high positions who are the prime doers of corrupt things in the party.
Q: There were reports that some ministers attacked you vehemently in recent cabinet meetings. Is it true?
A: Perhaps my statements had pricked their conscience. Or perhaps they wanted to please the chief minister.
Q: What is the future of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu?
A: As long as that party does not clean itself of corrupt elements, there is no future for it here.
Q: Will not the MGR charisma help?
A: Glamour helps only to a certain extent. Beyond that one needs a progressive political ideology and effective programs administered honestly by those at the helm of affairs.
Q: There were no controversies such as this in the past within the AIADMK. Why now?
A: AIADMK was clean up to 1980 and its administration was corruption free until then. But after the win for the second term in 1980, corruption gradually crept in.
Q: What is the role of the chief minister himself in this situation?
A: It is the chief minister’s responsibility to ensure there is no corruption in the government.
Q: Do you think the chief minister himself is corrupt?
A: When there is so much of stench all around, it is difficult to say.
Q: Who was more corrupt in your opinion – the DMK or the AIADMK?
A: I will not risk making comparisons. I can only say, there is corruption now.
Q: You had a running war against the party propaganda secretary Jayalalitha (who has now resigned that post). Do you think your problems started with her?
A: My problem was corruption in the AIADMK. She was only incidental. I had never opposed her position in the party. I have only said that she was usurping the powers of the party general secretary and that irked her.
Q: Do you think Jayalalitha’s hold over party affairs is going to hurt the party interests?
A: Her continued dominance in the AIADMK is going to be good for the nation. (At this point, a prominent pro-SDS MLA, sitting with us, explains that what SDS means is that if Jayalalitha continues her hold over the party, the AIADMK will wither away and that will surely be good for the nation. SDS smiles broadly.)
Q: Could you comment on the allegations that Jayalalitha also interferes with state administration?
A: I have already said she is functioning as the de facto chief minister. And everyone knows that.
Q: You have been charging the AIADMK with corruption. But how can a political party run without getting funds?
A: At the time of election, every political party collects money for its election fund. This is a voluntary contribution to all the parties, big or small, from various organisations, tradeers and industrialists. This does not take place throughout the year but happens only at election time. It is only when money is paid throughout the year that the administration becomes corrupt. A situation then develops that things can be done only when money is paid. I have said this to the chief minister. I suggested that money should not come through such channels at all times. But my suggestion has been in vain.
Q: You have alleged that there has been a signature campaign against you.
A: Signatures of MLAs were obtained under compulsion in order to expel me from the party because I wanted no place in the party for dishonest persons.
Q: Who did this?
A: Only the chief minister can answer this question. I can only say the campaign was against me.
Q: Now that you are out of the AIADMK, do you foresee any witch hunting by the chief minister?
A: He had started it even when I was in the party and when I was a minister. My followers were harassed with CID inquiries into their assets. The motive was only to implicate me as though I am the real owner of those assets.
Q: You have said that the chief minister has a criminal bent of mind. What did you mean by that?
A: I have said that the AIADMK government is corrupt. I am now saying that he (MGR) is the number one in that oozhal samrajyam ( corrupt kingdom). As for his criminal bent of mind, I have got information now that five boxes have been kept ready, each one of them containing Rs 15 lakh. The plan is to plant them in the houses of five of my supporters, arrest them and extract confessions from them under torture implicating me. Already, statements have been obtained from my personal assistant.