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’DMK Was Never Anti-Hindi, Only Against Its Imposition’

Monday 14 June 2004, by SINHA*Suveen K.

Touted the new face of DMK, the Communications Minister, in the news for both good and bad reasons, sets the record straight in a free-wheeling interview

Ever since cable TV entrepreneur Dayanidhi Maran, 37, was chosen to step into his late father DMK leader Murasoli Maran’s shoes, his life has been in constant fast-forward mode. Having played a key role in forging the DMK’s pre-poll alliance with the Congress and now bestowed with the key portfolios of communications (including telecom) and IT in the UPA government, he has been in the news for both good and bad reasons. Critics talk about a clash of interest between his earlier avatar as the CEO of family-owned Sumangali Cable Vision, a part of the Sun TV group and a dominant cable service provider in Tamil Nadu, and his current one. His supporters tout him as the new face of DMK, a young, dynamic technocrat who can transform India’s communications scenario. In a free-wheeling interview, Maran sets the record straight.

Is there a clash between your interests as a minister and a businessman?

There is no clash of interest. I’m no longer a businessman.

So, as long as you’re a minister, you’ll have no direct contact with companies owned and managed by your family?

No, I will not.

What is your stand on the conditional access system (CAS), launched by Sumangali Cable in Chennai?

I should not be asked this question. My ministry has nothing to do with it. The matter lies with the i&b ministry.

You were instrumental in forging the DMK’s pre-poll alliance with the Congress. How were you convinced that the Congress was the right ally?

Not just me, my leader (M. Karunanidhi) and Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi, too, were convinced that it was the right tie-up. It’s just that I happened to know both sides.

When did you first meet Sonia Gandhi?

I first met her only after the alliance had been formed. But I had been in touch with her on the phone.

Eyebrows were raised when you, a first-time MP, was given a cabinet rank?

Is there anything wrong with that? Haven’t other first-time MPs become cabinet ministers? In a democracy, anyone can become an MP or a minister if people support him. And I have people’s support.

Yes, a victory margin of 1,37,000 in a small constituency (Chennai Central)...

And the polling was only about 55 per cent. That means 70 per cent of those who voted supported me.

You urged the electorate to vote for you so you could finish the incomplete work of your father. What are those?

Primarily the needs of the constituency. South India, for instance, has always had a drinking water crisis. Desalination plants are the only solution. But, unfortunately, the government in Tamil Nadu has had problems with the companies setting up these plants. The common minimum programme (of UPA) has a commitment to set up such plants not only in Tamil Nadu but along the entire Coromandel Coast.

Other priorities?

There is the Sethu Samudram project. You know of Rama’s and Hanuman’s bridges. No ship can cross (Palk Straits) because water there is only three metres deep. Ships have to go around Sri Lanka. That takes two extra days. The project will solve that problem.

What about your portfolio?

I’m very happy. Communication technologies need young people.

And what will be your priorities?

A higher penetration of personal computers and Internet. And the net should be affordable to everyone. A lot of modernisation is needed in postal services. Post offices should become a one-stop shop for tax payments and other government-related financial services. They also have to become more user-friendly.

How cheap should the Internet be?

I can’t give a figure. It’s about $30 a month in the United States. Let’s see how cheap it can become in India.

The communications ministry has for years been mired in legal wrangles. They’ve been resolved to a large extent. Nevertheless, ticklish issues like inter-circle connectivity and access deficit charges remain. What will be your approach?

Consultative. I would be consulting trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and everyone else. But the ultimate purpose of my ministry is benefits to the consumer. The ministry is just a facilitator.

Has your party diluted its age-old anti-Hindi, anti-north stance?

The old stance changed a long time ago. What you’re talking about was probably true in the 1960s. DMK changes. It believes in keeping up with the changes in the country and the world. Moreover, let me tell you that the DMK was never anti-Hindi. It was never ever against Hindi. It was just opposed to the imposition of Hindi on Tamil Nadu. Otherwise, we respect Hindi as much as our own language.

When did you plunge into active politics?

December 31 last year, in a way. But I have been doing party work ever since I was a child, along with my father and uncle Stalin (M. Karunanidhi’s son). I also managed my father’s campaigns.

Life would have changed drastically in the last few months...

You bet! My privacy is gone. Earlier I worked 9 am to 10 pm. But I used to have a lot of time for my family and leisure. Now, I work round the clock.

Some profiles have talked about your Harvard education. What was it about?

Too much is being made out of that. It was just a three-month course called ’Owner/President Management Programme’. Essentially, I’m an economics graduate (from Loyola College, Chennai).

Is it a conscious decision to shun the traditional politician’s attire?

There is no traditional dress in Tamil Nadu. The veshti is just the formal attire for us. It is more like a ceremonial dress which I wear at weddings, the harvest festival (Pongal), and other ceremonies.

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