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On the road with the Chidambarams

By T E Narasimhan
March 28, 2014 09:02 IST
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The day started pleasantly in Chettinad, famous for its palaces, in Sivaganga district, around 450 km from Chennai.

Karti Chidambaram, contesting from Sivaganga, and his father and Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who has represented this Lok Sabha constituency seven times, were out campaigning on Wednesday.

A convoy of 20 vehicles set off from the Chidambaram farm house in Managiri at 9.40 am. The father travelled in his Scorpio, and the son in a Land Rover. The first stop was Vepankulam village, where the Chidambarams laid the foundation stone for a Rs 36-core paper mill.

"This is the right time to pave the way for young people, which is what I have done... it doesn't mean I am running away," the elder Chidambaram told the village assembly. Karti, 42, is one of 14 young candidates chosen by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi from Tamil Nadu.

"When our heart can be handed over to a 40-year-old doctor for surgery, why can't we hand over our country? This is the right time to hand over," Chidambaram added. Youngsters today don't want freebies, the finance minister said, they want jobs. Chidambaram has been criticised by a cross-section of the people in the district for not creating enough jobs.

"I have a clear direction for industrialisation, which I put in a 10-point agenda. I really wish the next finance minister gives priority to creating employment," he said.

Reacting to criticism that all he had done for his constituency was set up bank branches, Chidambaram pointed out later in the day at his home that Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd had committed to investing Rs 1,000 crore in the district and National Textile Corporation was spending around Rs 63 crore to expand its plant here.

Apollo Hospitals and Vasan Eye Care had set up units, as had the business process outsourcing arms of the Essar and Reliance groups. Three textile and sugar mills have begun operations. International airports have come up at Madurai and Tiruchy, and three National Highways now cross the district. All this in the last five years.

He blamed the Tamil Nadu government for not helping with infrastructure projects like converting a fishing harbour into a commercial one at Thondi. "If electricity is given without any disturbance, more industries will come," Chidambaram said, referring to the AIADMK government in the state that had promised uninterrupted power before the Assembly elections.

Everywhere, the father addressed villagers, explaining his efforts to improve life in the constituency and blaming the state government for not supporting him. He also introduced his son in the 10 villages across 250 km. The Chidambarams visited on what turned out to be an oppressively hot day.

Karti went on to add it was not really in the purview of a Member of Parliament to create infrastructure or industries. That was a job for the state government, which controls two resources, land and power, that are essential for industry. "My focus will be on creating jobs. I will represent the youth if I am voted," was his message to voters. "I will think global but act local. I can bring more investment to this area."

Asked about his strengths, Karti, who wanted to enter politics since 14, replied: "I am young and bring the perspective of younger people. Besides, I am better educated than other candidates and have global exposure."

Development should not necessarily be through government schemes. Private participation was vital, said Karti, adding he would happily hand over his MP's seat to any Dravidian party if he could take care of Tamil Nadu's major issues like power. The younger Chidambaram was also clear that he should not be identified with the state's caste politics.

When it comes to identifying challenges, Karti said for the Congress, the issues were the same across the country and the party was geared up to face them. But then he was quick to add, "I don't have my father's experience and knowledge."

At the end of every meeting, Karti would hang around to speak to voters as his father got into his car for the drive to the next village.

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T E Narasimhan
Source: source
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