The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu is in a deep crisis. With the faction led by TTV Dinakaran seeking a floor test along with the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Chief Minister Edappad K Palaniswami is facing a real threat of his government falling in the next few weeks. However, Governor C Vidyasagar Rao has been silent on the demands for a floor test, leading to allegations that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre is helping Palaniswami by giving him crucial time to woo dissident legislators. The BJP has also come under attack for its handling of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET, with protests erupting against the Narendra Modi government following the suicide of student Anitha on September 2.
In an interview to Scroll.in, BJP national secretary H Raja, who is also in charge of the crucial state of Kerala, said a mirage is being created that the BJP is involved in the internal affairs of the AIADMK. Conceding that it was inclined to sending the Sasikala faction out of the AIADMK, he said this only reflected the party’s strong principles against dynasty rule. On NEET, he said it was the Tamil Nadu government that faltered in the way it handled a proposed ordinance seeking exemption even though the Centre was inclined to support the move. The Centre’s monitoring of education was important to keep divisive thoughts away, he said. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the BJP’s interests in keeping this AIADMK government alive?
We have no such pressing interests. Whether it is the Centre or the governor, it is true we want a definite role to play. But there are limitations. Unless the government loses its majority unequivocally, we cannot act upon it. There are divisions in the AIADMK. But no one is interested in toppling this government. The MLAs supporting TTV Dinakaran told the governor that they want a change of the chief minister. They did not withdraw support to the government fully in the letter they submitted to the governor. It is not the job of the governor to effect change of the chief minister. That is the work of the party and legislators.
There is no difference in the Constitution between the chief minister and the government. When someone says they are withdrawing support to the chief minister, it can only mean taking back support for the government.
Many of the dissident MLAs even now are saying they do not want to topple this government. You see, the office of the governor is not some small office where you can say one thing and seek action on another. There is a set procedure even for withdrawing support.
After VK Sasikala was removed as interim general secretary in the general council meeting, Dinakaran openly said the government doesn’t have the support of his 21 MLAs. He has demanded a floor test before the High Court by impleading in the case filed by the DMK.
True. But this was not the position when they submitted the letter to governor in August. The Madras High Court has said no floor test till September 20. Let us wait for the decision of the court.
It looks like the BJP is defending this AIADMK government more than the AIADMK itself. Why are you not asking for a floor test? Is the BJP comfortable with a minority government ruling the state.
First of all, the BJP does not have a presence in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. So we are in no position to go to the Speaker and demand a floor test. Secondly, a constitutional process has already begun. The governor will take a decision. Now, where is the question of BJP defending the state government? We are only saying let the constitutional authority take a decision. If the governor feels there should be a floor test, well and good.
A big state like Tamil Nadu is without a full-time governor for over a year now. Is the BJP taking Tamil Nadu so lightly that it cannot even appoint a full-fledged governor?
There are about nine states for which governors are to be appointed. The Centre will soon do that. There is no conspiracy here.
In Bihar, your governor administered the oath of office and then ordered a floor test in one evening after Nitish Kumar joined the National Democratic Alliance. In Tamil Nadu, the governor has not spoken a word on floor test for weeks. Is the BJP trying to help Palaniswami by buying him time?
When former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa passed away, this same governor administered the oath of office to O Panneerselvam in a matter of hours. The moment it was clear that Palaniswami had the majority support, he did the same in February. So where is the question of some conspiracy as you are alluding to. The governor has to analyse everything and take a decision. This is not some child’s play.
You missed an important link in that sequence. When Sasikala staked claim and had majority support in January, the governor kept quite for days.
The Supreme Court was about to deliver the verdict in the disproportionate assets case. Had she been sworn in, the whole state would have plunged into uncertainty the very next week. The governor did well by avoiding this scenario.
So you are saying it is right for a governor to assume guilt and take decisions? At the time of staking claim, she had no disqualification...
I do not think anyone has found fault with what the governor did then. He avoided appointing a criminal as chief minister. There is nothing wrong. And remember, the governor is not bound by a time limit to decide on things. Had Sasikala been acquitted, I am sure the governor would have invited her to form the government.
Should we assume that indecision is also a constitutional right given to the governor? That will be a very novel interpretation of the governor’s powers.
Let me be clear. The way things stand, there is no need for the governor to rush with his decision. The court is now looking into the matter. Let us wait.
But is it not true you tried to get rid of Sasikala from the AIADMK?
We are not involved in the internal matters of another party. It was the AIADMK’s general council which removed her. Let me clarify on one thing. Our opposition to Sasikala is based on the principle that dynasty politics is detrimental to India. We will fight it everywhere and not just in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK has removed the dynasty. I hope the DMK too will do the same.
What is the BJP’s assessment of the AIADMK government’s performance?
See, even from May 2016, the governance has been a causality. This had to do with the health of Jayalalithaa, which deteriorated and she later died. Following her death, the ruling party is going through internal strife. Like I said, governance has taken a clear beating and we have been asking the AIADMK to focus on governance.
Then why is the BJP reluctant to criticise this government? Dinakaran says BJP is the de facto ruling party in Tamil Nadu.
We are commenting on every problem. We are not a party to oppose for the sake of opposing. Even in the case of NEET, the state government is opposed to the examination but we are in support. We have said clearly that the main problem is the state government’s failure to improve the quality of school education in government schools. We cannot act on the whims and fancies of the working president of the DMK or someone else.
As far as NEET is concerned, Union Minister Nirmala Sitaraman offered all support for the state ordinance seeking exemption. Two ministries cleared the ordinance. But in the Supreme Court, your Attorney General suddenly said the ordinance was flawed.
Even if we had accepted the ordinance, the courts would have struck it down. When the ordinance was in preparation, pro-NEET petitioners represented by lawyer Nalini Chidambaram went to the Supreme Court. The court clearly revealed its mind and said it wanted NEET to be implemented. As far as Sitaraman is concerned, let me explain the sequence of events. It is a matter of record that the state government agreed to have NEET for PG [postgraduate] medical courses and for admissions in UG [undergraduate] courses in private colleges and deemed universities. What they sought was exemption of one more year for the government colleges. Our minister said we will help you out on this.
If two union ministries clear the draft of an ordinance but the attorney general finds fault, does it not show poorly on the Centre?
Please present the facts properly. The state government couldn’t promulgate the ordinance. It should have got the approval of the governor and then sent it to the President for assent after getting the approval of the Union Home Ministry. Since education is in the concurrent list, the state can have its own amendment provided it got the approval of the Union Home Ministry. This process was not carried out at all as a case was filed in the Supreme Court in the meantime and notice was issued. After the court revealed its mind, the governments cannot oppose.
In Jallikattu matter, the court has given a clear verdict that the sport is cruel. Even after this, you supported the state government in getting the sport approved in January through an ordinance. Was the mind of the court not a consideration then?
Again, the facts are different. The court did not say anything about Jallikattu during the time the ordinance was prepared. In the case of NEET, this happened bang in the middle of the process. There is a big difference here.
Only five government school students have got medical seats this year. Do you think this serves social justice?
Let us accept the reality. Even without NEET situation was not that different. Even without NEET, the government school students getting MBBS seats was only 0.7%. One big difference that has happened is, a handful of private residential schools, who cornered a substantial number of medical seats, have taken a beating. These schools encouraged rote learning and completely ignored and bypassed class 11 lessons. They only took class 12 lessons and made the students score high marks. Namakkal, Erode, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri dominated the admissions. They got more than 75% of the seats. But now this is gone below 1/6th. This is a welcome change.
You cannot deny NEET has helped urban students. Chennai’s share saw a quantum jump.
This is illusory. This jump from about 130 to over 400 appears to be a quantum jump. But look at all other districts. In Nilgiris, it went up from two to 24. In Ariyalur, where Anitha committed suicide, it went up from four to 21. So now we have got a right geographical spread of the admissions. This injustice has been removed. Also. NEET has not disturbed the 69% reservation policy in Tamil Nadu.
But all this doesn’t change the fundamental fact that government school students have lost out.
It is a precarious problem. It is not the fault of NEET. It is the fault of the state government. The state education system needs an overhaul.
There is also a feeling that you are trying to impose the Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus because you want to homogenise the curriculum and push your agenda..
There is a tendency to fill the curriculum with divisive ideas. So necessarily education needs to be in the concurrent list and the Centre has to monitor education consistently. It will lead to creation of good citizenry.
But the BJP too is accused of the same thing in injecting Hindutva into school and college curriculum...
What is Hindutva? Do our children read the real history of loot and plunder by the Mughals? Who changed it? What is wrong in telling history as it is. Centre’s role in school education is necessary to maintain the unity and integrity of India. In Tamil Nadu, lessons glorify a known British stooge.
Are you alluding to Periyar? If that is so, Hindutva leaders also pandered to the British and promised their support if released from prisons.
Yes I was talking about Periyar. What is wrong? He wanted people to hoist black flags on the day India achieved independence. RSS leaders were nationalists. Don’t compare the RSS with Periyar. We have always stood for the unity of India and have fought secessionist forces tooth and nail.