Tamil Nadu 2016

‘I hope this will be a moment of change’

Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK) candidate Vasanthi Devi contesting in R.K. Nagar constituency. Photo: V. Ganesan  

In her tastefully done up home, V. Vasanthi Devi is chatting with a clutch of youngsters seated around her, holding forth with great passion on the virtues of new media. One of them volunteers to form a Whatsapp group for her, others talk of Twitter. “You reach so many people at one go,” a youngster explains in Tamil, his eyes shining with a fiery passion. The former Vice Chancellor is listening in keenly, allowing the wonder of a world new to her to envelope her.

But ever since her name was proposed as the VCK’s candidate in the R.K.Nagar constituency, Vasanthi Devi has had a wondrous ride, literally with all the campaigning, but also experientially. It’s perhaps not about the victory or the loss, then, and this makes the battle fascinating – because everything is being recorded as an intense experience. “At the end of this, irrespective of what happens, I think I will be a very angry person,” she tells Ramya Kannan, as people are busy planning her strategies in the war room that her house has become.

It has been two weeks since the announcement of your candidature, but two hectic weeks. How have your responses changed over the course of this period?

The first couple of days were uncertain, I wondered if it had been daredevilry on my part. Had I stepped in where angels feared to tread? But over this period, I’ve found this experience extremely energising. It is also an essential experience for anyone who is political, which I have been, nearly all my life. In a democracy, the constant promise of equality is played out for that one second every five years, and being a part of it has rendered vague concepts into a throbbing reality. I’ve seen absolute squalor and wretchedness in the constituency.

What have you seen on your campaigns?

My constituency, R.K. Nagar, is a picture of absolute squalor. It is where some of the most wretched people live, and is a true symbol of the collapse of democracy. Though it is meant to be a star constituency, there is no evidence of its star status at all – the roads are narrow and cramped, water supply has long been an issue, people are affected by the toxic fumes from one of the largest dumpyards at Kodungaiyur, there is an overpowering odour, and no one seems to be aware of the right to education bill. The most brisk activity happens at the TASMAC shops and possibly inside tiny hovels, where several people seem to exist with a television set that is always running. The dalits and the fishing community form a significant population and they have several demands that have not been met yet.

But there must be positives…

Oh yes! Just making a connect with the people is so exhilarating. If I was a poet, I’d have written verses about making unpolluted, unmediated eye contact with the people. Despite their squalor, despite their and poverty, there is a genuine reaching out that I seem to have been fortunate to experience. Everyone, I think, should have this kind of connect. And, if at 77, I’m able to find the energy and commitment, it is because of this.

Some people have pointed out that it was Ms. Jayalalithaa who appointed you to the key posts that you have occupied – as Vice Chancellor, as chairperson of the State Women’s Commission… and, that you now oppose her…

We are not enemies. If I were to run into Ms. Jayalalithaa, I will be respectful, I probably will thank her for giving me those opportunities. But I’m not bound for life to her because of those appointments. It was the state’s decision to appoint me. Also, we are on the polar opposites of the political spectrum; ideologically, she stands for every thing I oppose politically.

Political parties seem to package freebies as ‘welfare’. As someone who believes in the centrality of the welfare state in a democracy, where do you think welfare ends and freebie begins?

A welfare state is the acknowledgement of every citizen’s right to free education, health, quality of life…all entitlements. But freebies are a corruption of the system, an antithesis of the welfare state, in fact. There is no budgetary statement accompanying the promises. By what miracle then do we expect them to be fulfilled? But the people’s sense of entitlement has been obliterated, there is no sense of anger, they have come to accept charity.

What about cash for votes?

Buying votes is the final corruption of a democracy. And I must say, in Tamil Nadu it has been developed into a fine art form. It corrupts that one sacred moment of exercising one’s franchise too. While people have begun to ask questions now, it is tough to tell whether they will be able to resist the enticements.

What do you reckon are your chances of winning the R.K.Nagar seat?

I wouldn’t be able to make an assessment of that. But the message of the PWF Front I represent is that an alternative is possible. We can pull people out of their utter helplessness and restore their hope. I’m not sure how far we can make inroads this time, but I do hope this election will be a moment of change. A better world is possible. The people of Tamil Nadu deserve this change.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 12:27:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/tamilnadu2016/vasanthi-devi-interview/article8570508.ece

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