Lok Sabha polls | Dravidian mindset in Tamil Nadu is changing after death of Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi: Tamilisai Soundararajan

The BJP Chennai South Lok Sabha constituency candidate says it is her wish to return to active politics to work for the people; she believes the party’s vote share in the State has increased and the people are appreciative of the many welfare initiatives undertaken by the Prime Minister

April 06, 2024 12:06 am | Updated April 08, 2024 01:48 pm IST

BJP’s Chennai South candidate Tamilisai Soundararajan interacts with journalists at The Hindu office in Chennai on April 5, 2024.

BJP’s Chennai South candidate Tamilisai Soundararajan interacts with journalists at The Hindu office in Chennai on April 5, 2024. | Photo Credit: Akhila Easwaran

BJP Chennai South Lok Sabha constituency candidate Tamilisai Soundararajan, who recently resigned as Governor of Telangana and Lt. Governor of Puducherry to return to active politics, is confident of entering Parliament. In a freewheeling interaction with journalists at The Hindu office in Chennai on April 5, the former BJP State president said she opposes the DMK’s ‘Dravidian Model’ of just giving “free bus rides” and ₹1,000 to women without empowering them.

Excerpts: 

Your resignation from gubernatorial posts came as a shock. What was your thought process before you decided to resign and how long did you plan it?

The thought process started immediately when I became the Governor. Because I was given the Governor post as an opportunity, I took it without any hesitation. Every recognition came to me like that. I joined as an ordinary karyakarta (worker) in the BJP’s South Chennai unit. Then I climbed to various positions in the party from the lowest step, including postings in the medical wing at various levels, vice-president of the party, its general secretary, national secretary, and State president. All these were given to me by seeing my hard work and talent. I have not asked for any posts. Governorship also came to me like that.

Senior BJP leaders knew that I had a tough fight in the last Parliament elections. Truly speaking, my preference was to contest from the Chennai South constituency, even last time. But because of the alliance [with AIADMK], the same candidate [J. Jayavardhan] wanted the seat, and as a State president I have to oblige the alliance partners. 

My option was South Chennai or the south [of Tamil Nadu]. Then I moved to the south [Thoothukudi]. Everyone knew that it was a tough fight. From the beginning, I knew I wouldn’t be successful. But I fought on the field very strongly and an opponent told me that within 15 days I had changed the scenario. The party recognised my fight, then they appointed me as Governor.

I was working for one year as Governor of Telangana. During that time also I had a tough time with K.C.R. [former Chief Minister of Telangana K. Chandrasekhar Rao]. Even the media in Telangana said that I was the first person to take on K.C.R. I was straightforward and sometimes he was unable to digest that. When there was a need for a Lieutenant Governor in Puducherry, I was called to take that post. For three years, I served as an L-G in Puducherry. I adopted six tribal villages in Telangana and I conducted Mahila Durbar, Praja Darbar, and several traditional programmes. 

As the L-G, I enjoyed the responsibility. I took the oath in Tamil and delivered the Governor’s address in Tamil. I took part in all the welfare activities, unlike the fight between the previous government [led by former Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy of the Congress] and the Lieutenant Governor [Kiran Bedi]. I initiated many schemes and endorsed good schemes initiated by the Chief Minister [N. Rangasamy] without any difficulties. There was turmoil in Puducherry earlier, because whatever the Chief Minister [Mr. Narayanasamy] wanted to bring in, she [Ms. Bedi] obstructed it.

Knowing the responsibility, I endorsed various welfare schemes. For example, laptops for students, ₹50,000 deposit scheme for newborn girl children, and ₹1,000 rupees for women. It was promised by the Tamil Nadu government but it was first implemented by the Puducherry government. Above all, the 10% reservation for NEET-qualified government school students in medical admission was implemented within a short period. 

We trained 300 students for NEET examinations and immediately when this reservation was sanctioned, 37 marginalised students who studied in government schools got medical admission. It was a proud moment for me. I donated stethoscopes, medical equipment and books to them. A watchman’s daughter took the book that I donated and kissed it. She said she had thought of buying the book, but it was too expensive. Some of them who got into medical colleges through this reservation wrote letters to the Prime Minister and Home Minister. 

As a person with administrative capacity and a mindset to work for the welfare of the people, it could be done even in a short period with conviction and commitment. For students, I initiated the no-bag day, water bell every two hours, millet snacks in the evening and eggs for noon meals in Puducherry. Further, I introduced free food for street dwellers, pulse oximeter banks, food for patients at ₹5 and free face masks in Ponlait milk booths during the time of COVID-19. The pandemic was managed much better than in Tamil Nadu. 

Despite having administrative capacities, and having held a unique combination of Governor and L-G posts, I wanted to be with the people. Whatever the posts given to me, I have worked to the fullest of my satisfaction and people’s satisfaction. 

Because of the announcement of the elections, I thought it was high time to jump into politics once again. Within a short period after getting the approval from the President, Prime Minister and Home Minister, I resigned.

Though you were Governor of Telangana, you have followed Tamil Nadu politics closely. What has been your impression of people’s endorsement of the BJP, over the years? Has the clout of the BJP grown in the State? How do you see it now, when the INDIA bloc is being bolstered by the DMK, which is a major party in Tamil Nadu?  

My strong feeling is the party has grown well. The rallies of the Prime Minister draw a large number of enthusiastic people. The State president K. Annamalai’s padayatra has also helped. I should endorse all the other senior leaders starting from La. Ganesan, K.N. Lakshmanan, Pon. Radhakrishnan, C.P. Radhakrishnan, all of them sowed the seed. Then it started growing during my term as the State president, followed by that of L. Murugan and Mr. Annamalai. 

The opposition which we had in neutrino, hydrocarbon, and NEET has subsided. People of Tamil Nadu like the Prime Minister and he also takes initiatives for the welfare of the State. I feel the percentage of vote share has increased and we will win some seats. The people are more supportive. The Dravidian mindset is slowly coming down after the demise of great leaders like Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. 

You mentioned the party is growing. Multiple opinion polls also suggest your vote share will increase. But when it comes to fielding candidates, why did the party’s high command ask a Governor to resign, a Union Minister, who just went to the Rajya Sabha again, and a BJP floor leader, to contest? Why couldn’t the party give it to other aspirants?

I completely deny the opinion that I was asked to resign. It was my wish and request. Leaders appreciated my functioning as Governor and L-G. But because of my wish to enter into politics, they asked me to resign. When I wanted to contest from South Chennai, which is my home constituency, the leaders endorsed it. Nainar Nagendran also wanted to become an MP. It is not unusual. Even in Telangana, MLAs became MPs and vice versa. Mr. Murugan has been given a safe seat and he will win. He will resign from the Rajya Sabha and another person will get it. This is the respect given to the karyakartas by endorsing their work. 

When the Prime Minister visited Tamil Nadu, he hailed AIADMK leaders M.G.R and Jayalalithaa. However, Mr. Annamalai continues to criticise the AIADMK. Why is there a difference and how do you explain it? 

Instead of calling it a difference, [I’d say] the State president has been given full responsibility and rights to face the political situation in the State. Just because we are a national party, nobody exerts pressure on the State president. He has full freedom to take forward the politics of the party in the State. It is a healthy sign that the State leader of a national party can make his comments without any interference. The Central leadership may have had an opinion to continue the alliance with the AIADMK; however, it was dropped when the State leadership of the party had no such opinion.

You are contesting from South Chennai. Your rival [DMK candidate Thamizhachi Thangapandian] has had a fracture. Are you taking it as an opportunity? Is it going to improve your chances with the people of South Chennai?

No, I don’t see the fracture as my opportunity. I wish her a speedy recovery. I don’t want to gain from the pain of others. It is [because of] the fractured functioning towards the people, she may lose, I think. As a voter of South Chennai, I have never seen her. There was no power supply for 72 hours during the time of floods. The ground floor of my house was flooded. Even though she said she came to the rescue of people during the floods, that’s not the type of activity we did in Puducherry. We did proactive work during floods. I did my responsibility where I was given, but she didn’t carry out her responsibility properly. During the time of COVID-19, as the L-G of Puducherry, I told all the MLAs to go door-to-door to ensure that people in their constituency are vaccinated. It is not about distributing food and relief materials during the calamity, one should think about how to prevent it. During the 2005 floods, Karunanidhi visited flooded areas, in the 2015 floods M.K. Stalin visited, 2023 floods Udhayanidhi Stalin visited and if there is nothing done, in 2026 we will have floods and Udhayanidhi’s son will come and visit. This keeps on going because of the total mismanagement of the State for 50 years. What proactive measures are being taken to arrest floods and save wetlands? In Puducherry, with the help of experts, biogas is being prepared from the dump yard. Hyderabad and Bangalore, which emerged as cosmopolitan cities along with Chennai, have better civic infrastructure. There is no new scientific methodology adopted for handling sewage and garbage in Chennai. Both [Ms. Thamizhachi Thangapandian and J. Jayavardhan] were MPs. What did they do? When other cities have e-buses for public transport, why does Chennai have none? You have to own and develop the constituency and stand by the people. That is my dream. I want to set a record that a person can return to politics and be successful. 

You said you knew that you would lose the last election. How do you see your chances in this election? Who is your main rival, the DMK or the AIADMK?

I will win, I have to. My appeal to the people of South Chennai is you have voted for both. You have tested it. They were not functioning as an exemplar MP. Then why go to them again? Don’t see the party alone. See the candidate and how they have performed. I have a good track record. I know how to move the Central government and get things done in a straightforward manner. I am a person with a ‘non-corrupted’ image. My coat is white and my note is white. I have only one drawback. Those who have black money are buying votes, which I cannot. I am a competent and qualified person. Despite that, I was trolled as being short, dark and with frizzy hair. They wanted to divert attention from my talents through body shaming and they were successful. But I didn’t respond to it. I left politics as an unsuccessful person and want to return with success.

But you said your opponents are buying votes, which is a real problem.

I will get votes only with competence, qualification and talent. But even now, I have complaints saying they are distributing money, even in Thoothukudi, which is unfortunate. Cash-for-votes is taking different forms. Now it has been transformed into shop tokens and saree tokens for votes. It should be curtailed in a free and fair election. In South Chennai, there was only 55% voter turnout last time. I will appeal to the educated section of South Chennai people to please vote and then go on a tour [if they need to travel out of the city]. I had appealed to the Election Commission, when I was the Governor, not to fix the polling day close to the weekends, particularly on Monday and Friday. Unfortunately this time too, the polling day falls on a Friday. 

I cannot talk like [TN Minister] Duraimurugan who said this constituency exists only for us [the DMK] to get success. In Telangana, former Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao [BRS] challenged the current Chief Minister Revanth Reddy [Congress] in a constituency. However, it was won by the BJP candidate. Anything is possible in a democracy. In my life all my challenges were successful. I hope I will succeed in this election as well. 

What drew you to the BJP? Is it the nationalist appeal or Hindutva?

Nationalist appeal and development model. When I was studying at Thanjavur Medical College, the situation was pathetic. When I did my higher education in Canada, I saw better medical infrastructure there. I wondered when my country would get all this. Later when I attended a medical convention, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke about the development model. Then I decided to join the BJP. 

You made a very strong point about being a go-getter. You also said how you managed to get things done. Do you think your ability to negotiate with the top leadership of the BJP will help you to bring funds that the State government asked the Centre for flood relief? 

Because there is a system, I will definitely help the people of Tamil Nadu. One should have the capacity to bring projects. It’s not only about writing letters to the Centre. I have a great plan for Chennai South. The Prime Minister is planning for a rain basin project and environmental projects there. Those will help to combat floods in Tamil Nadu, as well. When we go with a great plan for drainage system, water management, garbage disposal and other civic issues, our PM endorses it. It was the inability of South Chennai MPs to get things done.  

Would you be talking about NEET in your election campaign?

This is the Supreme Court’s decision, how can they scrap it? In Puducherry, we started training marginalised sections and they got into medical colleges through 10% reservation. Why did you [the DMK] promise voters that your first signature would be to scrap NEET? Now you are getting signatures from others. How many lies you will tell? What qualifications do they have to talk about NEET? Mr. Udhayanidhi cannot talk about everything. NEET is very good. As a medical professional, I stand for it.

One problem with NEET being a sole determinant of merit. Sometimes students who get low cut-offs also get admission to medical colleges.

That is the fate of reservation also. They are entering into a system competing with others and challenging the open system. How many government school children got admitted in the previous system? The cut-offs were reduced only for those subjects in which a student need not directly deal with the patients. They simply want to oppose it, because it was from the Centre. What do you know about NEP [National Education Policy] and learning a third language?

How do you propose to give confidence to minority voters, particularly Muslims?

Triple Talaq ban is justice done to the people. All schemes of the Central government are inclusive. They receive too much pampering from the divisive politics of the other parties. The other political parties don’t want the minorities to understand us. Only in Tamil Nadu, the DMK and Congress are playing divisive politics. 

In South Chennai, you have promised to bring a lot of schemes. But your mandate extends to people beyond South Chennai. What will be some of the large ideas that you push forward?

I will focus on the urban poor, especially women. MGNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act] is for the rural poor. My focus will also be on curbing domestic violence. The solution is not to give women ₹1,000 and free bus rides. Our Prime Minister started schemes such as Vishwakarma and MUDRA for people to avail of loans to transform them as entrepreneurs. My primary objective is to make women job-givers, not just job-seekers. My focus will be on the holistic development of women, their health and education. They should own the bus. They should not just travel as a passenger with free tickets. Women are more capable and hard-working. I am totally against this Dravidian Model. Many times, the State government copied Central government schemes.

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