Chennai: He wears a thick ring on his finger with a massive ‘A’ inscribed on the chunk of gold. V.C. Arukutty is a hefty man, sweating profusely as he waits for his leader, Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam (OPS) to finish an interview with a local news channel.
Arukutty is honest and forthright in his admissions, even at the expense of him cutting a figure worthy of ridicule. A two-time MLA from Goundampalayam in Coimbatore district for the ruling AIADMK party in Tamil Nadu and originally in the pro-Sasikala camp, Arukutty decided to jump ship and landed up at OPS’s residence in Chennai on February 8.
In an interview with Sandhya Ravishankar, Arukutty details how his voters were humiliating and even shunning him, thanks to his support for Sasikala. Towards the end of the interview, Arukutty answered his mobile phone and suddenly handed it over to this reporter. The caller was someone from Dubai who insisted on explaining why Arukutty’s decision to join OPS was the best possible one. Through this phone conversation with a complete stranger, Arukutty sat grinning proudly. At the end of the call, Arukutty told this reporter – “See? Complete strangers are calling me. I don’t know who this person is who just called. Now you understand that my decision is correct,” he grinned.
Why are you here now?
As far as I am concerned, we were continuing in the party because we did not have a choice. But the lower rung cadre did not accept us. Those who voted for us too did not accept us.
This anti-Sasikala feeling was evident immediately after Jayalalithaa’s death. Even at Rajaji Hall, the public who came to pay homage made their anger at Sasikala very clear.
We consoled them to some extent. We kept meeting the people, voters and cadre and kept reassuring them that everything would be fine, that she (Sasikala) will perform well. I asked everyone to be patient. I have spoken many times in my constituency. I explained to the voters that she will definitely perform well. There is no doubt about that. Until yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon I did not have any doubts. Once Annan (elder brother, referring to OPS) spoke out, I thought about it. Everyone has the same thoughts in their mind.
You are saying that everyone has a similar opinion. But the majority of MLAs are said to be with Sasikala.
Yes, they are with her. Even though they all went with her, suddenly one MLA got a chance to leave and he has come here (to OPS’s residence). There is a sense of fear. This is the reality of the situation. OPS has been governing the state well, he handled the jallikattu protests well and performed well after the destruction of Cyclone Vardah. When he went to Madurai to inaugurate jallikattu (on February 1) he was not allowed to do so. If it had been any other chief minister, what would have happened? There would have been violence. But he did not say anything. He only said I bow to the people’s wishes and then left. All this shows his integrity and his image among the people.
If the majority of the MLAs are with Sasikala, what can you possibly do?
That has to be decided by Annan, I cannot say anything about that. As far as I am concerned, I am here with Annan because I am acting as per my conscience. I do not aspire for any post nor am I in any post within the party. Despite being a MLA twice. Since I made my choice to throw in my lot with Annan, thousands of people from Coimbatore have been calling me. Not even one person said why have you made this foolish move. No one asked me whether I had made a wrong choice. The reason for this is that the decision I have taken is the right one. And that is what the people are telling me. A DMK member too called me and wished me for taking the right decision. (Laughs)
We are not able to go to the ground and explain about Chinnamma (Sasikala). People tell me – ‘Go. Go after wealth and position.’ This is how they speak. You should hear the ladies – they spit at us and ask us to get lost. We all thought that the criticism and anger will reduce. I thought so too.
But after she removed him [OPS] from the post of treasurer of the party, I too felt it was unfair. After all he is the CM. She could have engaged in discussions and negotiations and brought the party together. If she had spoken to everyone and assured us that we must all remain united, this problem would never have arisen. But she did not do that. I am very disappointed by this.
We were all wondering what the alternative is. There did not seem to be a way out, we had to fall in line and go along [with Sasikala]. But I am happy that Annan has taken this decision. I have come here on my own. No one from here called me.
Do you feel more MLAs will come to OPS’ side?
They will come. That thought is there in their minds. I cannot say who will come though.