Tamil Nadu FM Thiaga Rajan on How He Will ‘Fix the Broken System’

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In an exclusive interaction with The Quint’s Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia, Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Dr Palanivel Thiaga Rajan said Tamil Nadu will soon be the first state to have a transparent data system of coronavirus deaths and infections.

He elaborated that India should aim for 100 percent vaccination, and for that the Centre should monopolise procurement and increase production.

Commenting on disparity in data on COVID deaths, he told The Quint, “There has been a mismatch in the number of deaths shown by the Chennai Corporation and the state records. A report showed that the number of death certificates had dropped by 30-40 percent during the pandemic. But upon investigation, it was found that it was not because the deaths had come down, but because the crematorium was overworked.”

Also Read: ‘Criminal Negligence’: Kapil Sibal on Govt’s COVID Mismanagement

Thiaga Rajan told The Quint that while he is keen to ‘restructure the broken system’ during his tenure as the finance minister of the state, he will not be contesting in the 2026 elections.

"“My promise to my wife is to work till the age of 50, another 10 years for free public service and then I’ll dedicate my life to my family and take care of my assets.”" - Dr Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, Tamil Nadu Finance Minister to The QuintTN Going Global

On 21 June, Tamil Nadu government led by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) President MK Stalin announced that the state will form an economic advisory panel with Nobel laureate Esther Duflo, former central bank Governor Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, the former top economic adviser to the federal government and Jean Dreze, a development economist.

Explaining why the state decided to go global, Thiaga Rajan said, “The CM wanted a diversity of perspectives. Tamil Nadu recently constituted a State Development Planning Commission and we had only local experts, professors and industrialists. We wanted the collective to have a global perspective and for it to reflect the state’s economic and social policy.”

Also Read: TN Economic Advisory Council to Have Rajan, Duflo, Drèze & Others

DMK Will Surely Take Steps to Slash Fuel Prices, Assures PTR

Assuring that the DMK would take steps to reduce prices of petrol and diesel, Thiaga Rajan said the DMK gave its poll promises on the issue without knowing the actual fiscal status of the state.

In a recent Assembly session, Opposition leader Edappadi K Palaniswami asked when the government was going to implement the poll promise.

The finance minister said, “We have not been able to do so because the financial situation of the state is much worse than we expected. Also, we didn’t expect the second wave of the pandemic. We have already spent almost Rs 20,000 crore to handle the crisis. Adding to this, the Union government in February cut down the revenue to the states.”

“We have prioritised giving Rs 4,000 for every family in the lower income groups,” he aded.

Thiaga Rajan alleged that the previous AIADMK regime had not tabled five performance reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on the state government that led to this obscurity. He mentioned that the CAG reports that were last sent were pertaining to the year 2017-2018.

'Centre Taking Away States' Democratic Rights'

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Tuesday, 22 June, wrote to nine chief ministers proposing that all the coastal states and Union Territories oppose the new draft Indian Ports Bill 2021, and take joint action to prevent any move to dilute the powers already vested with the states. As per the new draft Bill, state governments will not have any major role in management of minor ports if the Bill is passed.

Thiaga Rajan said this was one of the many issues that states are fighting with the Centre to ensure their rights aren't taken away. He added that several states are doing much better than BJP-ruled states in terms of education, GDP, women empowerment, social development, mortality rates, and healthcare.

"“The Centre is trying to take over every sector. They are taking away our democratic rights.”" - Dr Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, Tamil Nadu Finance Minister to The Quint

At a time when the Union government is trying to centralise power, Thiaga Rajan has been urging states to fight in order to safeguard the state’s rights.

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is expected to call for a meeting of all states to discuss federalism soon, he added.

Also Read: Tamil Nadu Will Not ‘Free’ Temples From State Control. Here’s Why

Future of BJP in Tamil Nadu?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to make inroads in the political space in Tamil Nadu in the 2021 elections by winning four seats.

Three of the seats were won because the leaders were from other parties who had a rapport with the people, he added.

However, Thiaga Rajan pointed out that, “It is most ironic that the most religious state, Tamil Nadu, is the one where BJP has the least traction in terms of vote share. The BJP’s notion of Hindutva is contrary to Tamil Nadu’s notion of Hinduism because religion is democratised here. BJP cannot become a party with a 10-12 percent seat share.”

Prospects for 2024 Elections?

With the conversation on the Mahagathbandhan (an alliance led by regional parties) heating up ahead of the 2024 elections, Thiaga Rajan said there is a good chance for people to opt for regional parties over the saffron party.

“BJP is a non-entity in states who have managed to keep their identity intact. This notion of BJP’s invincibility stems from the large population and huge number of MPs in the Hindi belt, starting with Uttar Pradesh. Even then in 2019, BJP got only 37 percent of the votes and didn’t have even a simple majority. 2024 will be a game changer election,” he said.

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