Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan took over as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry at a time when it deserved an able administrator, to clear multiple schemes, payments, and programmes that had been pending for several years. In a candid interview with Debjani Dutta of The New Indian Express, she opens up about public service and what it’s like being the L-G, while the UT is under President’s rule.
Tell us a little about your childhood, growing up in a political family...
I used to be a social person from childhood. Even in school, if there were any problems among students, I would be the first person to try and solve them. I have acquired this attitude from my father (Kumari Ananthan, veteran political leader). Soon, politics became my passion. But my mother did not want me to take up politics as she believed that no man would want a dedicated politician as his wife. She pointed out the busy life of my father and insisted I become a professional. So, to fulfil my mother’s wish, I chose to become a doctor but continued to have a social outlook, and wanted to do something for society.
In the very first year of my MBBS, I got married to Dr Soundararajan, a nephrologist, arranged by my family. My marriage hit the headlines because not only did then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran attend it but also two former CMs -- M Karunanidhi and M Bhaktavatsalam. MGR and Karunanidhi met there after a very long time, which became the talk of the town. Speaking at the wedding, MGR said, “though she is an innocent woman if she decides to enter public service, Dr Soundararajan must not prevent her from doing so.”
What made you enter politics, especially, with a party that opposes the ideology of your political family?
It was during my medical college days that I realised that political power is essential to help other people. Once, at the hospital, there was a problem with the oxygen supply. When I approached the administration for setting it right, I was told that students must not directly approach the administration over such matter. But, when someone pointed out that I was the daughter of the Leader of Opposition, their attitude changed.
Similarly, there were problems in extending treatment to a patient. The ultrasound machine could not be operated as the AC was not working. So, we raised funds through donations and fixed it. I raised other deficiencies in the medical college through my father in the Assembly and got them addressed. As time passed, even after completing my MBBS and DGO, my passion for politics increased.
My father, on the other hand, did not want me to enter politics. He did not want dynastic politics. It was during a medical convention that I heard the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee speak on the development of India, and his vision to transform the country. It struck a chord with my own nationalistic feelings.
It caused turmoil in my family. Both my father and uncle (Vasanth Kumar) were Congress leaders. My father did not speak to me for a year. But I stuck to my decision. I had arrived at it after careful thought. In 2001, I met Narendra Modi, who was then the BJP General Secretary and I met him again in 2004 when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during which I heard about his development agenda.
How satisfying was your tenure at BJP?
It was quite fulfilling. Starting as the South Chennai District Medical Wing Secretary in 1999, I gradually got elevated to the post of the Tamil Nadu State BJP president because of my hard work. I served in that capacity for five-and-a-half years, the longest ever. I also served as the National Secretary of the party. However, I didn’t get the mandate, though I had several plans to serve the people.
You have been a political leader, Governor and Lt Governor. Which of these has given you the greatest satisfaction?
I will serve the people in whatever capacity I get an opportunity to. Be it as a political person, Governor or Lt Governor (acting), I will serve the people within the purview of the post. My approach is always people-centric. So even if I am Lt Governor (acting), as long as I am holding the post, I will do as I am required to do, so that people benefit. I took up the post of Lt Governor at a very challenging time and now with Puducherry under President’s rule, with the assistance of the two advisors, I am doing my best to see that people are satisfied.
Your approach so far has been very humane. You have revived several welfare schemes. While the beneficiaries are delighted, people are also seeing this granting of approval to schemes as validation of former Chief Minister V Narayanasamy, who has been faulting your predecessor Kiran Bedi for inordinate delays...
I am not dwelling on what happened in the past. My work is people-centric. Doing what people want by approaching every problem sympathetically and taking decisions to benefit people. Some of the decisions, like increasing the distribution of eggs in midday meals to three a week, reviving the breakfast and midday meal scheme were based on my own observations of the requirements of children. Every day, I make a list of media reports or complaints received and address them.
What do you think about the governance model of UTs with the legislature and the new amendment brought for Delhi giving the Lt Governor overriding powers?
Whatever be the powers or the governance model, everyone should be for people. Governor, Lt Governor, Chief Minister, ministers, everyone should work for the people. This is a democratic country.
Within the framework of protocols, a lot can be achieved for people. I believe in creating a relationship with Chief Ministers, be it as a Governor or Lt Governor for people-centric good governance. Everything should be people-centric; that is my aim.
How do you manage your work as Telangana Governor while also being the Lt Governor of Puducherry?
I have fixed a certain amount of time in a day to attend to my responsibilities through video conferencing with officials. Since my work for Telangana is fully e-office, I am clearing files from Puducherry.