The CPI(M) office off 100 feet road in Coimbatore looks busy. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, people walk in hoping to meet the party's candidate for the Lok Sabha elections in April, PR Natarajan, a veteran politician.
This will not be the first time PR Natarajan is contesting the polls. He was elected an MP from Coimbatore in 2009 after he defeated R Prabhu, the Congress candidate, with a margin of over 35,000 votes. However, in 2014, AIADMK decided to field P Nagarajan from Coimbatore, who won the elections, pushing PR Natarajan to the fifth position after BJP, DMK, and Congress.
Known for championing the causes of the labour force, PR Natarajan talks about his focus areas, Coimbatore's major problems, Pollachi sexual assault case, and what he thinks of the present AIADMK.
Q: As a candidate in the DMK-Congress alliance, what would be your focus this time in a broad sense?
Once upon a time, people used to say that if you go to Coimbatore and Tirupur, you can survive. Now that arrival of people to these cities with the confidence to eke out a living has reduced. Those who study engineering have no jobs these days and engineering colleges are being converted into kalyana mandapams. He (Narendra Modi) is telling people to sell pakodas and bondas. There are 11.4 lakh vacancies in central government jobs. Why didn’t this government fill those vacancies in the last five years? You don’t have to give jobs for 2 crore people as you had promised, but what is your problem in filling up these existing vacancies? So I will urge the government to fill those vacancies up.
My second focus would be to push for amendments in the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. What is weird is that this act has had no amendments since it was enforced. Based on this act, anybody can take away anybody’s land for schemes like powergrid. Many government officials have gone abroad for study trips sponsored by the government. Why haven’t they taken good technology from those countries and implemented it here so that these small farmers don’t lose their land for the sake of development? If we say this, they will ask if I am against the nation’s development. It is not like that. For national highways, low voltage electric transmission lines, and petrol and gas pipelines, it is the farmers who gave their lands. Is there any law that one section of the society alone should sacrifice for the nation’s development?
Q: As a candidate for Coimbatore constituency, what are the major issues that the people here face? What would you do to address those issues?
Coimbatore is facing a very bad traffic problem. So I had invited Metro E Sreedharan to Coimbatore and he had surveyed the entire city and suggested that Metro rail is necessary for a city like Coimbatore to address the traffic issues. I have recommended this scheme to the government of Tamil Nadu a lot of times, but nobody took it up seriously. So I will urge the state government to take this idea forward and bring metro rail to Coimbatore.
Second, there are a lot of pending overbridges and flyovers to be built in the city. All those will be completed. Third, distribution of drinking water in Coimbatore is taken care of by a private company called Suez. One of the basic necessities of the people like water must never be sold. The government must only provide it. Moreover, Suez has been criticised by many other countries across the world. Coimbatore Corporation has brought it here and awarded it the contract too. We will take steps to cancel that contract. Four, Western Ghats are a gift to the people of Coimbatore district. But now, parts of it are being usurped by people claiming to be godmen. This has resulted in distress to many families living there. I will do all within my power to drive these people out.
Q: How has the political and social climate changed since your last win in 2009?
Right now, there is poverty in people, so much that the political class thinks that they will vote if they give people money. The parties that do this must be ashamed of themselves.
Likewise, the names for the schemes are all pompous, for example, ‘Smart city’. But if we observe closely, they want to drive out poor people from where they are living. The government is providing housing for the people some 10 kilometres away from their workplace. A man has to begin work by 5 in the morning. How will he get to work? So huts will continue to exist due to this anomaly. There is no proper planning. People must be consulted while planning projects because there will be someone out there who is better and more intelligent than we think we are.
Q: You must be aware of the Pollachi sexual assault case. Do you think the government and the authorities are handling the case well?
No. The manner in which they have compromised the identity of the affected woman itself shows how the highest level of police and government machinery is working. We are seeing it as something that is serious and shameful, especially since this is said to be happening for the past seven years, under a government which is today run in the name of a woman. There is no way that this can be happening without the knowledge of the police. The police knows even the smallest of things, how can they not know this? Then why do we have a special branch in police? I am asking what is the economic growth of the people in the police force in that area in the past seven years? Secondly, how many FIRs have been registered on suicide cases in the past seven years? How many of those cases relate to young women? Probe must be conducted regarding the deaths of such women as well. To do this, people who have been helping the culprits must be removed from government postings. Everybody asked for a CB-CID probe but the government by itself handed this over to the CBI. This shows that the government wants to delay the matter.
Q: Similarly, there has been much talk about anti-Sterlite activist Mugilan...
Mugilan is a long-time activist who has been campaigning against Sterlite. He has been missing for more than a month now. Though a habeas corpus petition has been filed and the court is monitoring the progress in the case, we want it extended beyond the court. We want the court to keep at it and find him somehow.
Q: The last time you won, CPI(M) was allied with AIADMK. Now your party is with the DMK. Do you think the current AIADMK has weakened in Jayalalithaa’s absence?
Isn't that the truth? The present AIADMK could not even win her constituency, even with the two leaves symbol. After that bye-poll, the current AIADMK dispensation has not even been able to conduct elections anywhere. In fact, the general trend is that whichever party is in power will conduct the polls with confidence because of the power. This AIADMK is so unique that they have the power and still do not want bye-elections. This shows that her absence has caused a negative impact.