Tamilisai Soundararajan: The BJP candidate keeping the faith in Chennai South

The seat is indeed a prestigious one. A former president R Venkataraman, a former Chief Minister CN Annadurai and a former Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari have all represented it.
BJP candidate from South Chennai Tamilisai Soundararajan campaigning at Saligramam for the Lok Sabha elections.
BJP candidate from South Chennai Tamilisai Soundararajan campaigning at Saligramam for the Lok Sabha elections. Express Photo

Till recently, Tamilisai Soundararajan was a Governor (of Telangana) and Lieutenant Governor (Puducherry). But all it needed was for the Lok Sabha Polls 2024 to arrive and she resigned from both posts and plunged right back into the electoral fray as a BJP candidate.

"I have always been a people's person, and what could be better than serving the people as their representative?" she asks.

The seat Tamilisai is hoping to pull off this feat from is Chennai South. Her biggest rival here is the sitting MP, Thamizhachi Thangapandian of the DMK, a friend whom she warmly hugged when they met each other while going to file the nomination papers.

Notably, Thamizachi had won the seat in 2019 with a 50.3% vote share. Tamilisai's other rival is AIADMK's former MP J Jayavardan, the son of former minister D Jayakumar, who won Chennai South back in 2014. The math certainly does not add up at this point. Is a possible union ministerial role in the offing for Tamilisai and was that a possible inducement?

The seat is indeed a prestigious one. A former president R Venkataraman, a former Chief Minister CN Annadurai, a former Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari and a former dream girl Vyjanthimala Bali have all represented it.

Tamilisai is presenting a bold front.

She believes she can win and also that her party can win the 370 seats that the Prime Minister has predicted they will across the country. But she hastens to add that the party's success will be based on the trust the people have in the party.

"I will continue to serve them, with or without a post. It is up to the people to decide. Our goal is to come to power because the people have faith in our work and want us to lead," she states.

Even late into the night -- it was between 9-10 pm that I saw her in action -- Tamilisai keeps going and going and going, like the bunny in the Duracell battery ad, like Tennyson's river.

There are only around 100 people to cheer her on in that one-hour window, but she remains indefatigible and cheerful. It is difficult to make out that she has spent over 10 hours on the road campaigning under the harsh Chennai sun.

Never one to wilt

But then Tamilisai has never been the one to wilt.

She recalls the way she was trolled by the DMK when she was the state BJP chief.

“I was ridiculed for my height, my complexion, my frizzy hair and I personally came across many posts that body-shamed me. I was cornered, I was attacked and abused not for my ideologies or my work but solely for my appearance,” the BJP leader remembers.

Soundarajan explains that even now when she is targeted, she chooses to dismiss the barbs by claiming that they are not aimed at her.

“As a woman leader I was questioned on so many things that usually a man won’t be bothered with. Politics and leadership are considered to be male-dominated fields and unfortunately women have to work four times harder than their male counterparts just to prove that they too are eligible for the role," she says, underlining a truth voiced by most women in politics.

The Katchatheevu vow

When it comes to policy, she emphasises that women empowerment has always been her priority. She says her aim is to ensure more eligible female candidates come to power under the leadership of PM Modi.

Asked about DMK's NEET ban promise, Soundarajan, a doctor by training, questions the party's credibility, highlighting their repeated promises and changes in stance.

"The DMK promised that they would scrap the policy immediately coming to power in the state. Two years later, they were busy getting signatures of students in government schools for the same. Now three years later, the party has yet again added the NEET ban to their list.

"I think it’s best if the party comes up with a list of excuses instead of a list of promises," she says.

The Katchatheevu issue is back in the spotlight thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Soundararajan vows that retrieving the island will be one of the top priorities of the Narendra Modi government if elected to power for the third time. She accuses both the DMK and the AIADMK for failing the country by allowing the island to be ceded.

Steeped in politics

Tamilisai hails from a political family. Both her late father Kumari Ananthan and late uncle H Vasanthakumar were Congress leaders.

She became a student leader while pursuing medicine at the famed Madras Medical College. In 1999, she became general secretary of the state BJP medical wing. Later, she also served as the president of the Tamil Nadu unit.

She unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections from Velachery and Virugambakkam in 2011 and 2016 and general elections in 2009 (Chennai North, when she won 3.54% of votes) and 2019. In the previous Parliament election, Tamilisai lost to Kanimozhi from Thoothukudi polling 21.77% votes to the DMK leader's 56.77%.

Five years on, here she is trying her luck all over again from a newer constitutency. It will be one of the big election result day stories if Tamilisai comes anywhere close to winning...

BJP candidate from South Chennai Tamilisai Soundararajan campaigning at Saligramam for the Lok Sabha elections.
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