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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Union Minister Radhika Selvi

The youngest central minister speaks

January 07, 2008

From being a novice in politics, she went on to become a member of Parliament and then the youngest minister in the United Progressive Alliance government.

But V Radhika Selvi's entry into politics was stormy and sad.

Her husband Venkatesh Panniyar was killed in a police encounter in Chennai. Venkatesh, a strongman from the Nadar community, was involved in numerous cases of murder and extortion. He was out on bail when he was killed.

Venkatesh was very popular in his community as he used to take care of their problems and stand up for then when other castes interfered with the Nadars. His killing came as a shock to the Nadar community, as he had just finished canvassing for the AIADMK, in the Sathankulam by-polls.

The DMK, aiming to cash in on the Nadar sympathy vote, gave the Thiruchendur Lok Sabha ticket to his young widow. Radhika, 31, canvassed for votes with her three-week-old baby in toe. She won with a comfortable margin.

She was made a minister after Dayanidhi Maran was asked to resign, following his disagreement with DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.

In a freewheeling interview with A Ganesh Nadar, the minister of state for home talks about her new responsibilities and her plans for the future.

How do you cope with the language barrier in Delhi?

I studied Hindi when I was in school and English in college, so I have managed. I have been an MP for three-and-a half-years and I have learnt in that time. I have been a minister for six months and that involves meeting more people and more traveling. Language has not been a problem.

You are a novice in politics. How do you manage the political scenario in Delhi and in your own party?

If you throw someone in the water, he learns to swim in order to survive. I learnt a little about politics from my late husband. He was involved in a lot of politics. I have also learnt on the job. You have to learn to survive here.

What exactly is your job in the Home ministry?

Shivraj Patil is like our captain. There are three ministers of state under him. I am one of them. My portfolio comprises disaster management, union territories and border areas.

MPs have a local area development fund. Do you have a bigger fund because you are a minister?

My ministry does have its own funds. The MP fund is not enough. A member of legislative assembly gets Rs 1.25 crore for his constituency, and we get only Rs 2 crore. My area comprises 6 MLA constituencies.

Which other states have you visited in your capacity as home minister?

I have visited the Andaman and Nicobar islands to review the post-tsunami work that is being done there. I have also visited the border areas in Leh, Ladakh and the North East. The Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force are under my portfolio.

When you became a MP, you had vowed that you would find out who killed your husband and who ordered the killing. What happened?

The Human Rights Commission sent their own fact-finding mission and submitted their report. We had applied for an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The government did not oblige and so we have moved the court, asking for a CBI inquiry. We are doing everything according to the law and through the right legal channels. I do not want to be accused of using my ministry to further my end.

Anyway, internal security is under the purview of Sriprakash Jaiswal, who is another minister of state.

What happened to the cases against Venkatesh?

As he is no more, I guess all cases must have been closed, except those cases in which others were involved.

Are you happy as a minister or were you happier as a MP?

As an MP, I had only one constituency to serve but as a minister, I have a much larger area to take care of. I think of this as an opportunity to serve the people who voted for me.

What future do you see for yourself in the field of politics?

As I told you earlier, for me, politics is an opportunity to serve people and my future is in public service.

How do you see your personal life shaping up in the future?

I have no personal life as such. It is only politics and my family life, which centres around my son.

Do you think you have a hold on the Nadar community's votes?

I like to think that I have a hold on votes from all castes, not only my own.

Anything else you would like to tell us?

I would like to do a lot for my constituency. I would like to leave my mark in the ministry of home affairs. People should look back and say: She did make a difference.

The Rediff Interviews