MGR: cordial ties with the CentreM.G. Ramachandran (MGR), the super star of Tamil films who first became Tamil Nadu’s chief minister four years ago, is actually a Malayalee. Born of a poor plantation labourer about 65 years ago in Kandy (Sri Lanka), his actual name is Maruthur Gopala Ramachandra Menon.His,MGR: cordial ties with the CentreM.G. Ramachandran (MGR), the super star of Tamil films who first became Tamil Nadu’s chief minister four years ago, is actually a Malayalee. Born of a poor plantation labourer about 65 years ago in Kandy (Sri Lanka), his actual name is Maruthur Gopala Ramachandra Menon. His poverty-ridden childhood and youth are obscure. Not much is known about this period except that his father died when he was a child, that his mother laboured to raise her three children (two boys and one girl), that he had to fight all the way to make it to the top.Fame and recognition came to him rather late, in the ’60s, even though he played a major role as early as 1947, in a Tamil film Rajakumari. MGR’s political awareness coincided with the beginning of his serious film career in the late ’40s. It was E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker (EVR), the founder of the Dravida Kazhagam (VfK.) who fired his political imagination. It was also at this time that he came into contact with C. N. Annadurai and M.Karunanidhi. When Annadurai quit the DK and formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), MGR followed him along with Karunanidhi. “Anna” became the first DMK chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1967; he died in ’69 and was succeeded by the wily scriptwriter Karunanidhi.MGR always played the good guy’s role in most of his films: no drinking, smoking, swearing, gambling or womanis-ing. He stuck to this Mr Clean image in real life too. He didn’t like the way Karunanidhi ran the party and government, and the party’s funds in particular. As the party’s treasurer he demanded to know how DMK finances were being used and promptly got sacked from the party by Karunanidhi. MGR formed his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1972.advertisementPeople know I am sincere and they believe what I tell them. The moment they lose faith in me, MGR the hero becomes a zero !Following the dismissal of Karunanidhi’s government by Mrs Gandhi during the Emergency on charges of corruption and inefficiency, MGR swept the polls and became the state’s chief minister in 1977. His government too was dismissed by Mrs Gandhi early last year, but MGR and his party were returned to power in May last year with a thumping majority.MGR sports a fur cap on his bald head and wears dark glasses all the time. Simple and unpretentious, he continues to live in his private residence at Ramavaram, a suburb 15 km from Madras. He rarely meets the press and grants few interviews. Last week, he invited India Today Senior Editor S. Venkat Narayan and Correspondent Raj Chengappa for an exclusive interview. Dressed in white dhoti and shirt, MGR turned out to be a gentle soul who keeps his cool. The marathon four-hour session began with lunch and ended with coffee. He spoke in Tamil and the interview was conducted in a relaxed fashion with the help of two interpreters. MGR switched off the air-conditioner himself so that the conversation could be taped properly. He disconnected the telephone too and asked the photographer to stop taking pictures because it disturbed his concentration. Even though his poverty deprived him of a good education, he is endowed with native intelligence and possesses an endearing sense of humour. Presently he is working on his autobiography which is being serialised in a Tamil weekly. He speaks as if he is delivering dialogues in a film. Excerpts from the interview:Q. What are the most important achievements of your four-year rule ?A. We were able to reopen sick and strike-bound mills and make them economically viable. In sericulture, we produced two lakh jobs. Nearly one lakh additional jobs were created in the handloom industry. The safety match industry was expanded to create additional jobs for 1,50,000 people. We accorded recognition to over 2,68,000 schoolteachers as government servants and provided job security to that many families.It’s my government which fixed minimum wages for landless farm labourers. We granted old age pensions to 25,000 old farmers. Another lakh of them will get such pensions in course of time. We are supplying electricity to Harijan homes and charging them a flat rate of Rs 2 a month. Lack of toilet facilities for women is a serious problem in our villages. In 570 villages I have arranged to provide such facilities.Q. Quite often, the non-Congress(I)-ruled states complain of step-motherly treatment by the Centre. You don’t seem to have this problem. As your opponent here is Mrs Gandhi’s political ally, how do you manage to have an apparently good relationship with her Government?A. A mother has to feed all her children. The vociferous lot among the children may get away with a little more than the others. But it doesn’t mean the mother starves the children who don’t fight with her. We have our own way of going about and getting quite a bit of what we want.Q. Does the Congresses alignment with the DMK seem genuine and natural to you?A. There’s been some misunderstanding between the Congress(I) and us. I decided against sponsoring Mrs Gandhi’s candidature for the Thanjavur parliamentary election (when she was out of power) at the last minute because I had definite information that if she had fought from there, her life would have been in danger.advertisementKarunanidhi was to have been her opponent. The violence that had occurred during the Chikmagalur byelection would have paled into insignificance compared to the violence that would have erupted at Thanjavur had Amma contested from there. I acted in good faith.My opponents spread lies to say that I backed out at the last minute because Morarji Desai threatened me. That’s rubbish. If that had been the case, why would I have backed a Congress(I) candidate at Thanjavur and ensured his victory? If I had incurred the wrath of some people in Amma’s party because of my reluctance to back her candidature at that time, then I have no regrets. Only time will tell whether what I did was right or wrong.Today Karunanidhi does not exist without Congress(I) support. He is a spent force now. In this state, parliamentary elections are one thing and assembly elections quite another. The whole of India wanted Mrs Gandhi back. In this state people were certain that they did not want Karunanidhi back. The Congress(I) won the parliamentary election because of Mrs Gandhi and not because of Karunanidhi. If people had wanted Karunanidhi back, they would have voted for the DMK in the last assembly election.Q. What are the chances of the AIADMK forming an alliance with the Congress(I)?A. If the Congress(I) can have an alliance with a man like Karunanidhi, there is no reason why it cannot have one with a man like me who had ordered a police firing to protect Amma against Karunanidhi’s goons when she visited Madras four years ago.We have had some differences of opinion. That’s why they went to the DMK. But it is we who have a more solid and meaningful relationship with the Congress(I). Our relationship is old and more durable.Q. What about the future?A. I am not thinking of what kind of relationship I should have with the Congress(I). I am thinking of such a relationship that will benefit the Tamil people the most. We already have a cordial relationship with the Centre. If we have a political understanding too between our two parties, there would be nothing like it. I hope it will come about in course of time. But I cannot predict what will or will not happen tomorrow.Q. The AIADMK appears to be basically an MGR show, doesn’t it?A. The AIADMK does not exist on a single individual called MGR. If MGR gives sustenance to the party, it’s because he reflects the policies and programmes of Anna. The day I stop doing it I will cease to count.Q. After you what will happen to the AIADMK ?A. Many people think that the AIADMK was formed in 1972 and that this five-year-old party came to power in 1977. But that’s not true. Anna formed the DMK in 1949. People accepted the AIADMK and voted it twice to power because they accept me and my party as the real inheritors of Anna’s legacy. In my party there are people who are more experienced than myself and they will continue to follow Anna’s policies even after I am gone.Q. What’s the difference between the AIADMK and the DMK in terms of policy?A. The DMK pursues Karunanidhi’s policies. In my party, we follow Anna’s ideals.Q. Can it be said that the DMK stopped winning elections when you left it ?A. Well, we formed the AIADMK in 1972. The DMK never really won a single major election victory since then.Q. The good guy roles you have played in those 150-odd films are clearly helping you a great deal!A. Well, I have played the villain’s role too in some films. Only I don’t play a villain’s role in real life! Whatever I promise to my people I try to implement to the best of my ability. People know I am sincere and believe what I tell them. The moment they lose faith in me, MGR the hero becomes a zero!Q. Why do you want to build a new capital?A. That’s because Madras has become just too overcrowded and unmanageable. Basic amenities like water, roads, sewage facilities and houses are grossly inadequate. This city wasn’t built in a planned way. We have now come to a stage where we have to alter the entire sewage system at a cost of Rs 50 crore and even then there is this danger of sewage pipes and drinking water pipes getting mixed up! We need to spend at least Rs 500 crore to improve basic amenities in Madras. Moreover, it is not accessible to all. What we need to spend to improve things in Madras can be used to build a first class state capital in the heart of Tamil Nadu.Q. All your life you have been a staunch prohibitionist. You had even imposed stiff punishment on breakers of the prohibition law in the name of wiping tears of mothers. Why have you scrapped it now?A. The law that was meant to wipe tears ended up swelling the eyes of mothers and wives with more tears. I found that it resulted in increased bootlegging, scores of deaths and thousands of jail sentences. This meant that breadwinners in thousands of families ended up in jail for breaking the law, thus reducing such families to destitution. That’s why I decided to change it.Q. Karunanidhi alleges that your party colleagues would have made at least Rs 15-20 crore in distributing liquor licences.A. Some time ago also, he made a similar charge and challenged me to sue him for defamation so that he could prove the charge. When I did file a case he changed his tactics and started accusing me that I was filing cases because I wanted to victimise him! So much for his allegations.Q. Your critics say that you sit on files for too long and that you are very suspicious about your officials’ motives. As a result things don’t get done fast.A. I don’t take decisions unless I have all the details of a particular case with me. I can take a right decision only when I know everything about something, isn’t it? You can’t blame me in such cases, can you? During Karunanidhi’s time, I am afraid the files were in a mess.advertisementThis is causing us problems now. Just one example. A certain project cost Rs 70 lakh in 1970. Karunanidhi approved it in 1972. By the time work began on it, it was 1974. We will need over Rs 330 lakh to finish this project, thanks to my worthy predecessor’s file-pushing efficiency. May I ask: what the hell was he doing sitting on the project for four blessed years’?Files are often found missing. One wise official took eight months to fish out one file! Another just didn’t know where his files were. The Sarkaria Commission had indicted one of Karunanidhi’s officials for changing currency notes worth over Rs 30 lakh into notes of smaller denominations when there were rumours about impending demonetisation. This being so, can you really blame me for my so-called suspicious nature?Q. Three years ago, you had said in an interview to India Today that you would like to see someone from the south occupy the prime minister’s chair.A. Just as there is decentralisation of power, there should be decentralisation of opportunities too so that any deserving person gets a chance to aspire for the highest office in the land. People all over the country must have confidence in the Central Government. They should think it is being fair to all the states. Once this is achieved, there will be no problem.Q. Do you think that someone from the south can hope to become India’s prime minister in the next five, 10 or 15 years? And who are the potential candidates ?A. Leaders are not chosen on the basis of a politician’s wishes! Gandhiji could say that Nehru would be his heir apparent. These days nobody can do that sort of thing.Q. Do you fancy yourself becoming the prime minister some day ?A. Instead, you should ask me: how long do you think you will continue as chief minister?