Being the son of Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, Ravindranath Kumar insists, has only hampered his political career. “So many youth leaders my age have become MPs and MLAs,” rues the 39-year-old.
This time though, Kumar is taking no chances. As the AIADMK heads into its first elections without Jayalalithaa, bruised by factionalism, testing the waters with the BJP and facing a tough challenge from both rebel T T V Dhinakaran and the DMK, the middle child of OPS has thrown his hat in the ring.
Making his wishes amply clear, Kumar went to the AIADMK headquarters on February 4 and took the Rs 25,000 form for applying for a Lok Sabha ticket. His choice is the family’s native place, Theni. The AIADMK’s R Parthipan had won from here last time with a margin of 3.14 lakh votes.
Claiming that politics would have been his choice even if his father was not in it, Kumar says, “I want to serve society, I am inspired by Amma (Jayalalithaa) and want to follow the path of my father.” While not directly commenting on Kumar, OPS has said that anyone with talent and capability to do good for the people can become a politician.
Sitting on the first floor of OPS’s official residence on Greenways Road in Chennai, Kumar, popularly called ‘Ravi Sir’ by aides, says his case can’t be seen as dynasty politics, over which the AIADMK attacks other parties. “Even if my father is heading the party, he will decide only on the basis of the opinion of leaders and cadres, assessing the winning chances of a candidate. And if the party’s choice is another candidate, I will be there to campaign for that candidate.”
He adds that he would have got a seat long back if his father was the only factor. “Why have I not been given a ticket in the Assembly or Lok Sabha polls all these years? I have been applying since 2000… I was never shortlisted. Amma knew me very well, she appreciated my work and made me the youth wing leader too. Still, maybe because I was the son of a leader, I was not selected for elections.”
Incidentally, Kumar was among the relatives of AIADMK ministers who lost party membership before the May 2016 Assembly polls over allegations of amassing wealth and making massive investments in India and abroad, keeping Jayalalithaa in the dark. Kumar managed to make a comeback after Jayalalithaa’s death, sometime in May 2017.
And yet, he insists his case is different from Dhinakaran’s. Kumar says Dhinakaran “cannot come back” to the AIADMK as he was expelled by Jayalalithaa for working against her, and had not even apologised for his “wrongdoings”. “True party members would write a letter seeking pardon to get reinstated into the party. Sasikala did that, but Dhinakaran and others never apologised. Instead, he disappeared for a long time, leading his own life, and came back after Amma’s death to capture the party.”
In his case, Kumar adds, the Sasikala camp engineered to have him expelled. “That period was a crucial time for Amma too as she was unwell. They (Sasikala and others) knew that Amma’s health was worsening, still they dumped so many problems on her and forced her to take action against us as we were closer to Amma. Amma wouldn’t have acted against us if her health was better.”
With the AIADMK divided over whether it should align with the BJP — with leaders such as Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai saying “the AIADMK has no business helping the BJP grow in Tamil Nadu” — Kumar says he doesn’t have a problem with parties using religion for politics. “I see it differently. It doesn’t matter if it is the BJP, Congress or any other party. I would agree with them if they are helping people.”
One allegation Kumar has long faced is over his “frequent foreign trips”, with the Opposition claiming this was to stash away ill-gotten money. “These are my trips to see places,” Kumar says. “Nothing more. I like to travel.”
An MBA and a yoga enthusiast, Kumar became an AIADMK member in 1999. He says he grew up attending party meetings and rallies and later joined his college union. While his siblings, including an elder sister and a younger brother, are not into politics, OPS’s brother O Raja also has political ambitions. Raja was sacked from the party last December for “anti-party activities”.