What could be a better way to understand the decadal shifts of Tamil Nadu politics than to learn about it from a man who has been active in it for 45 years?
Who is JCD Prabhakar?
JCD Prabhakar, also once regarded as ‘right-hand’ of Puratchi Thalaivar MGR (during the ’80s), has political experience that spans over four decades. He was hand-picked by MGR himself.
Puratchi Thalaivar MGR, Puratchi Thalaivi Ms. J.Jayalalitha, Mr. O. Paneerselvam, and now Mr. Edappadi Palaniswami: If there was one person who worked closely with ‘all’ the AIADMK Chief Ministers, it is JCD Prabhakar.
Observing him for over thirty years, two things stand out of JCD Prabhakar: Humility and Gentleness.
Despite his clout, proximity to top leaders, and Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) positions, JCD Prabhakar always chose to stay behind the scenes to strengthen the party and serve people. People close to him will testify; he never used his political influence for personal gains. Yet, he played a very critical role in the evolution of AIADMK as a party.
His reputation for being an inside advisory for its top leaders is well-known.
JCD Prabhakar reveals the most untold stories.
Our candid Interview with J.C.D.Prabhakar reveals the most untold stories of the making of the A.I.A.D.M.K. as a party, his role and experiences over the years, his personal life, political shifts in Tamil Nadu, and also few hints on how the party is gearing up for the upcoming Tamil Nadu Elections 2021.
Gearing to Interview JCD Prabhakar (Sir, as I would like to call):
I sit in the hallway of JCD Sir’s office reciting in my mind, “How do I gather boldness to question this Tamil Nadu’s most experienced Politician?” In a way, he can be called a living legend of T.N. politics.
Over four decades of ‘active’ political experience, the reputation of being a close counsel to chief minsters like MGR, Jayalalitha, and the current leadership, most preferred representative by the people of Villivakam constituency of Chennai, JCD Sir has so many accolades and achievements to him.
To interview him, I should be informed, which to some extent, I was, bold and agile, that I lacked.
The hallway had a wall of fame—photos of Mr. JCD Prabhakar, dated from the late ’70s to 2020, was displayed. His personal photo with Ms. Mother Terasa, and a series of professional pictures with Mr. M.G.Ramachandran, Ms. Jayalalitha, Mr. O.Paneerselvam, and Mr. Epdapaadi Palaniswami- it was like viewing the life of JCD Prabhakar, Sir, in one frame.
While I wait in the hallway, viewing the pictures and talking to Sir’s close aide, a white Ford Endeavor steers across the parking lot right outside the apartment door. “Sir has come,” says the aide, while standing up with reverence to receive him. We stood along with him, and in walked the T.N.’s living political legend, graciously.
In his usual Political attire- formal white shirt and white dhoti lined with the A.I.A.D.M.K. symbolic color (Black, White, and Red). Sir’s gentleness and humbleness beamed more generously than his pinkish facial hue. He stopped to look at me and asked, “Would you like to interview Tamil or English?”. “Tamil,” I responded, wanting to make a video story of him in the regional language. He agreed.
Life of JCD Prabhakar unfolds in the Interview:
He sits down in the chair while I gather boldness to pose my first question.
“Sir, You are a first-generation politician. You come from a middle-class family. Graduated from Loyola College, you had no family history of any political ties, but how did you make it into politics? Can you please tell us how it all started?” I asked.
With affirmation, he started to respond. “It all started when I was a student leader at Loyola College.” he began with a sense of nostalgia. “At that time, a poor student from Loyola wanted me to help him with an afternoon meal. Did you not eat your home-packed lunch? I asked him back. He responded, ‘No,’ giving additional details of how the family was economically poor and how they could not meet even the house’s food expenses. Deeply grieved by his response, I felt a strong need to do something about it.
“After helping him with the food meal that day, I went back home with a sense of realization. There could be many others like him, I thought! Food is a basic need for my collegemates and their families. ‘What if I raised a student fund to help needy students with their basic necessities?’ I asked myself. That led me to conceptualize and host a student fund-raising event at Loyola. I invited all the Tamil movie stars for the event. The event can attain its full potential and have a considerable impact that way, I thought. Puratchi Thalaivar M.G.R, Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan, and many other artists from Tamil Film Industry consented to participate. And it was! The fund-raiser charity was a grand success. We were able to gather funds for poor students.”
“Puratchi Thalaivar MGR, who had noticed my zeal to address student poverty through that event, liked my courage, management skills, and attitude. The event gave me acquaintance with MGR, and he, with generosity, took efforts to have a cordial relationship with me. I did not expect the burgeoning friendship with MGR will be a precursor for my political career, later. But, It Did! That’s how my political career started.”
JCD Prabhakar, MGR, and the Making of AIADMK:
Listening intently to all he had to say, I asked J.C.D. Sir, the second question, “Can you talk more about ‘your’ role during M.G.R.’s times?”
“Back in those days, there was no party called AIADMK, It was just DMK and M. Karunanidhi. MGR was an active public face and treasurer of DMK, as well. But, due to conflicts of principles (and also discovering evident misappropriation of party funds), MGR decided to step-back from extending his support to M. Karunanidhi. He decided to start a party that put people ahead of self-power, and AIADMK was formed. We, his aides, were given a choice too. And we sided with MGR” answered JCD Sir.
He continued, “I played an active role along with others who choose to join AIADMK We wanted AIADMK, the newly formed party of 1972, to get maximum reach and visibility in Tamil Nadu. I genuinely believed if there was someone who can elevate people’s poverty, it was MGR, So I gave my best efforts for all the party’s outreach programs. I took pride in working for the party from the grassroots level. Our work and MGR’s vision bore its first fruits, and the people of Dindigul bestowed the party’s first victory in 1973. Gaining a parlimentary constituency within just one year of party formation was a big motivation for all party-workers and me. The win helped us to work even more vigorously. We gained momentum and strength across Tamil Nadu after that. This led us to win the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election in the year 1977.”
The making of J.C.D.Prabhakar the MLA:
“All along, I always worked in the capacity of the party-worker. But, the 1977 elections changed the way MGR thought about me. He felt I had it in me to displace K. Suppu of Villvakam constituency,” he said with a thought of vividness.
K.Suppu of Villivakam, K. Duraimurugan of Katpadi (now Ranipet), and R. Rahman Khan (Fort alias Thuraimugam) from D.M.K. were eloquent orators and regarded as thunder, lightning, and rain of the D.M.K. party.
K.Suppu was considered one of the Three Musketeers of Tamil Nadu politics. In his book, ‘MGR Man & Myth,’ D.G.P.Mohandas refers to three D.M.K. candidates as the three musketeers of Tamil Nadu Politics.
JCD Sir then continued to speak about his first win “Back in those days, Villvakam was one big constituency. Today, it’s bifurcated into three. Despite the big legislative win of 1977, Villivakam’s choice for K.Suppu bothered M.G.R. He wanted someone who can actually work for that constituency’s people’s welfare and not just do flowery talks. Though a great orator, MGR felt K.Suppu was pretentious and that I, through my welfare works, can bring a positive change to the lives of people in that constituency. I never expected M.G.R. to position me for the post. Nevertheless, he did, and I obeyed. I remember signing the nomination papers from the hospital bed and in my broken plastered leg. MGR made me contest in Villivakam constituency against K.Suppu during the 1980 legislative elections. True to his belief and strategic positioning, the impossible was achieved: I defeated K.Suppu of DMK In 1980, I became the M.L.A. of Villivakam, ” he said.
J.C.D.Prabhakar and Jayalalitha
While taking all the informational nuances into my mind, I posed my third question to JCD Sir, “Can you talk about ‘your’ role in Purathi Thalaivi Amma’s governance?”
Graciously he responded, “AIADMK stood in solidarity for Srilankan Tamils. During 1983, Black July Riots broke-out in Srilanka. In Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayalalitha (Purathi Thalaivi Amma) and I hosted many public meetings to voice our party’s support for Lankan Tamils. We took to the streets wearing black attire, hosted public talk shows, and educated citizens as much as we could on the civil war against Tamils in Srilanka. After a series of meetings, Mr. M.G.R., who was pleased about our awareness campaigns, called me and said, ‘I want Ms.Jayalathia to be groomed for a greater role within the party. How do you think we can mold her?’ he asked me personally.”
‘I want Ms.Jayalathia to be groomed for a greater role within the party. How do you think we can mold her?’ – MGR
Having told me this confidential information, he paused a moment. Words freely flowed out in this candid Interview, but JCD Sir took immediate cognizance and told me, “These are pieces of information that have never been revealed before. I’m telling you now,” he declared. From his voice, I can tell that his information was correct: MGR wanted Ms. Jayalalitha to be his political heir.
Resuming after his short-pause JCD Sir continued, “After that conversation with MGR, I did all that I can from my capacity to make his wish come true. I supported Ms. Jayalalitha in her political career as much as I could. She was considerate enough to return all my favorable support to her, as well. She kept me as one of the few active advisories for many political party strategies and governance-related decision-making.”
“There have been a few tough times as well. Though not loud, I’m outspoken. While MGR liked my outspoken attitude and gave me proximity to him for my straightforward criticisms, the subsequent leadership was not very accomodating of criticisms. Once a paperweight was swung across the room because ‘Amma’ felt I was contradicting her. But, after a few days when real-life events happened as per my initial assessment, Amma was kind enough to acknowledge her anger. She called on me personally to replan the political strategy as per my initial suggestions,” he said with a sense of empathetic respect for Ms. Jayalalitha.
He went on to also talk about the previous assembly elections of 2016. “After winning the 2016 elections, as it is customary for her, Puratchi Thalaivi Amma went to pay respects of gratitude at Dr. MGR cemetery before taking the oath of Chief Ministership. Right after paying the flower tributes at the cemetery, Ms. Jayalalitha called on me to inform her immediate plans for me. Being of high stature and power, she did not have to make that thoughtful gesture that day. (Especially before driving to the Governer’s office and taking the Oath of Chief Ministership.) But she did! She recognized my lifetime service for AIADMK as she spoke about her immediate plans for me.”
J.C.D.Prabhakar and Current AIADMK Leadership:
Happy with the candid conversations, I asked JCD Sir, my fourth question, “What is your role in the current leadership?”
Without any apprehension, he responded, “I actively supported O.Paneerselvam in Dharma Yuttam (The recent internal conflict of AIADMK and Ms. Sasikala’s family leadership). We did not want our political party to become a family entity. We did our best to oppose that, and we had success doing it. The party merged back again. Under Hon’ble Chief Minister Thiru Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) chief ministership, there were many welfare schemes implemented in Tamil Nadu. I supported and contributed my part in helping these plans reach many people in my constituency.”
AIADMK after Ms. J. Jayalalitha’s Demise:
“After J.Jayalalitha’s demise, everyone expected the party to disintegrate. Many felt there was a void in Tamil Nadu’s leadership. Yet, after four years, despite the internal conflicts and external opposition, AIADMK as a party is going strong. What do you think is the driving force for that?” I asked, wanting to sincerely know from the man who was reputed for his honest replies.
“Party-men,” he responded in one word and with unflinching confidence. “There was an AIADMK split after M.G.R.’s Demise, and party-men worked extensively with Ms.J.Jayalalitha to help her emerge as a strong leader. After, Ms.J.Jayalathitha’s demise, again, it is the party-men who are helping AIADMK grow strong,” he affirmed again.
Major Shifts of Tamil Nadu’s Political Fabric:
“You have played an active role in Tamil Nadu politics for more than four decades. Over these years, how do you think the political fabric has changed in Tamil Nadu?” I asked Sir, my sixth question.
“There were days when we took posters with a pail of glue and stuck them on the walls. Apart from Radio, wall posters were one of the important ways to reach people. Today, there are more avenues, like public media and digital avenues, to reach the people. Back in those days, if people had to know about politics or city issues (naatu nadapu) they had to attend staged public meetings hosted in their respective street neighborhoods. Today, people don’t need that. They can get all the information about the world through a click of a button. They are better informed and well-knowledgeable about many things and various fields today. Thanks to mobile phones and media reach.”
2021 Tamil Nadu Election and Future of AIADMK:
“Why do you think the people of Tamil Nadu will vote AIADMK back to power in 2021? If voted back, What are your plans for your next term?” I posed my seventh question trying to feel the party’s preparatory mood for the upcoming elections.
“Farmer schemes, Better maintenance of irrigation dams, Waterbody and Lake restoration, Women-welfare schemes, Pedestrian plazas, Smart-bike mobility, new Solid Waste Management plans, new buses for urban cities of TN, Plastic-free TN, New IT Park project approvals (2020), Flyovers, Highways, and now the health care management during Corona crisis, are few of our recent achievements. People know all that AIADMK had done for them. During Corona Pandemic, TN rated high in C.O.V.I.D. Positive cases. But, our public health machinery worked tirelessly to help citizens get better and be healed. If you notice the numbers, the recovery rate of C.O.V.I.D. in Tamil Nadu is also as high. Anyone who had been to Government Hospital (G.H.) will tell you how the doctors, nurses, and all the support staff worked around the clock to cure infected people. Chief Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and bureaucrats worked in tandem to control the pandemic spread at the state level. People are watching. People will decide,” he affirmed with confidence.
“People are watching. People will decide.”
“Our party will release the party manifesto before we get to elections in 2021 next year. Our future plans, for the next term, will be given in detail there,” he said when asked about the future plans of AIADMK.
In the interest of time, and to the delight of those who have qued up to meet him at his office, I posed my final question to J.C.D.Sir, “What do you wish to tell young political aspirants of Tamil Nadu?”
Sir graciously smiled and said, “Enter politics to serve, not to make your money. First, get a full-time job to sustain your family, and if you have a zeal to serve people, join politics. If you enter politics just to make a big buck, wrong opportunities will mislead you to the dark, unethical side of politics. Politics is not a job. It is a service. Purity in service is important in politics. So, I request young political aspirants to keep that in mind while entering politics.”
Coming from him, I can tell this request to young political aspirants was true. Though an experienced politician, JCD Sir’s family wealth was largely made from his Real Estate Ventures and Advocate vocation.
Growing up in Anna Nagar and observing his public life from my childhood, I knew Sir was not in politics for power or money. Given the clout and proximity he had to all the party’s top leaders, he never hogged grandeur political limelight. With the MLA Designation or without it, he made sure (and still is making sure) the people of his constituency (Kolatur and Villivakkam) get all the government benefits entitled to them.
I wrapped up the Interview with a salutation, and so did he. I had planned for days for this Interview, and It went better than what I initially thought. J.C.D.Sir’s candid responses with a tone of humility and grace made his answers, both revealing and insightful.
In this Interview, I could see the Making of MGR, the making of Ms.J.Jayalathitha, the Making of OPS and EPS, and the making of AIADMK as a party itself.
More than four decades of political service could have had more stories to tell. In the limited time given to me, I was able to get as much as I could. This Interview made me realize: the Life of JCD Prabhakar Sir is a story of the evolution of Tamil Nadu Politics itself. He is Tamil Nadu’s living political legend, Indeed. And I was happy to have interviewed him.