‘It is policy failure on skill development initiatives’May 10th, 2009 | By Elections2009 | Category: Business Line features
The scandal of this country is skill development initiative…With proper skill development programmes I’m confident we can find jobs for all these people. So much so that I have made it into a slogan for my campaign — ‘one family, one job’. — Mr K. Pandia Rajan,
Ma Foi MD, contesting from Virudhunagar.
Chennai: He is Tamil Nadu’s equivalent of Bangalore’s Capt G. R. Gopinath or Mumbai’s Meera Sanyal. Ma Foi Management consultants’ Managing Director, Mr K. Pandia Rajan is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar constituency on DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam) ticket. In an interview to Business Line, Mr Pandian appeared quietly confident that he would make it though he has a high profile rival in the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief, Mr Vaiko. Mr Pandia Rajan’s priority: Employment for rural youth — an area where his human resource background would be of immense advantage.
Excerpts from the interview:
What made you join politics?
Ma Foi Foundation was already doing a lot of work with self-help groups, and physically challenged people. I have also done a lot of work in education, and livelihood issues. One of the trigger points was the Eisenhower Fellowship I had with Amartya Sen in the US for some time in 2000. Right after that I decided that I can make a stronger impact through politics. That was the inflection point for me.
Most people in India regard politics as a rather murky profession. Did you not consider that when you took the plunge?
Frankly speaking, right from student days I have been involved in politics. It is not something that I discovered overnight. I was president of the College Union (PSG, Coimbatore). I also led a strike at that time. Academically, I was good… a university ranker. But I always had a passion for politics. Those were the days of student uprising and Jaya Prakash Narayan.
Then, life took me in a different direction at Ma Foi. But the Eisenhower Fellowship gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do. Working with Amartya Sen made a lot of difference, and I decided that I should join a party and look at politics as an insider.
Why did you choose the DMDK and not one of the two larger Dravidian parties?
One, because it gave me a quicker opportunity to contest Parliamentary elections. Two, as a person I could vibe well with Captain Vijaykant.
What are the qualities that you admire in him?
One, he always speaks his heart; there is a great degree of openness that you get with him. He doesn’t hide things and he has a candour and a demeanour that are simple, straight and endearing. You cannot help admire this part of him.
What are the main issues in this election?
There is a high degree of dissatisfaction… Call it anti-incumbency or whatever — with what people have got…
Dissatisfaction with what…
Commitments made have not been fulfilled. All these compensations… freebies… have not helped the government. Even in freebies the delivery mechanism has been so poor that there was a lot of discrimination. I’ve now addressed over 400 meetings in 42 days. I ask questions and the crowd roars back with answers. I ask them have you got your colour TV? And the crowd roars back with ‘No’, or ‘it’s useless’. I ask, ‘Have you got your two acres’, or ‘have you seen your MP?’, and the immediate response is ‘No’.
Also, price wise, the government may claim near-zero inflation but the prices of essential commodities continue to be high. And there is massive corruption, particularly in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. In almost every village I go to, some digging is going on but when you enquire, they invariably say that they promise Rs 80 but give only Rs 40. There is an election going on, but even now they are not able to correct it…
You are contesting against a well-established politician like Mr Vaiko. So will that not hurt your chances?
We have highly overrated leaders here. If you look at the grassroots level, the party which has the maximum branches in this constituency is the DMDK. It has 1,800 branches for the 1018 booths, which is phenomenal. None of the other parties have that. Also, in terms of identity per se — my identity as the son-of-the-soil helps. None of the other two candidates have it. Even Mr Vaiko is seen as an outsider… from a neighbouring place, not here.
So you are optimistic that you’ll win…
I think so, yes.
You have released a constituency-wise manifesto, asked rural youth to dream big and promised them jobs. But rural youth, even with degrees and educational qualifications, do not get good jobs. So how will you handle that?
In every taluk we have committed to create a career centre; in this constituency we’ve done a survey and found that 60,000 people are unemployed.
Will you be able to conduct training courses for them, because even graduates and post-graduates from rural areas cannot get jobs?
The scandal of this country is that skill development initiative — in a Rs 15,000-crore project, hardly Rs 1 crore was spent in one year. In ITIs, everything is lost in sheer bureaucracy. But with proper skill development programmes I’m confident we can find jobs for these 60,000 people. So much so that I have made it into a slogan for my campaign — ‘one family, one job’. I believe it’s a crime against the youth of today that one year of complete stagnation in such a programme has happened. Even at the local level we can take initiatives. There is no point in giving freebies; we need to give them dignified means of livelihood.
Do you think Ma Foi will be able to help in this?
Ma Foi Academy is a commercial venture but Ma Foi Foundation can surely play a role but that cannot be the only agency. Many agencies will have to be involved. It is sheer policy paralysis which has led to zero impact on skill development initiatives.
A simple initiative of Captain Vijaykant was 60 computer training centres, offering simple courses. We’ve been able to train 30,000 youth. It’s a small but powerful initiative. See what the Government did. They wanted to create 200 institutes across Tamil Nadu in a private-public partnership model but it is completely lost in bureaucracy. In the last six months they have been advertising, re-advertising, all kinds of things but it has not been able to take off.
When you interact with the voters, what issues do they raise?
The single most important issue is water supply; there are many villages where water ‘comes’ once in eight days. Drinking water, sewerage and water for irrigation are the three main issues here.