If anyone wants to meet N Rangasamy, one just needs to visit the tea stall owned by Bhaskar, in Thattanchavady. One can get a glimpse of the Chief Minister of Puducherry on the tennis ground, where he plays a game every morning and evening. You can also see the 65-year-old politician zipping around on his Yamaha around his locality. But what has been upsetting the people of the Union Territory of late is how unapproachable their leader is for official purposes.
The people from Puducherry are used to there being no restrictions on meeting NR, and he almost never says no to any request. He even takes time out from official duties to attend weddings and other private functions. “Whether it is an autorickshaw driver, or a fisherman, he will never say no to an invitation and he will make it a point to attend,” G Vinayagam, an autorickshaw driver, said.
His display of camaraderie though, does not extend beyond private functions and casual banter. From directors of various government departments to bureaucrats, getting an official appointment with Rangasamy has always been a challenge. Every day, they line up on the tennis ground, armed with papers that he needs to approve, only to be sent away. “Many schemes that have been introduced in the Union Territory have been delayed indefinitely because the CM is so unapproachable,” a secretary to government said.
What has gotten Rangasamy elected repeatedly, however, are his populist schemes and freebies, which are focussed on helping the weaker economic sections. He introduced the CENTAC (Centralised Admissions Committee) through which he reimbursed tuition fees for Puducherry students to study engineering and medicine. He also introduced the Rajiv Gandhi breakfast scheme, where government school students were given milk and biscuits for breakfast in addition to the mid-day meal. Rangasamy also increased the amount of old age pension. Freebies ranged from free LPG connections, free rice, laptops, cycles shoes, raincoats for students, mixies and wet grinders.
These schemes, and his simplicity have earned him several sobriquets, including ‘Makkal Mudhalvar’ (People’s Chief Minister) and ‘Puduvai Kamarajar’ (the Kamaraj of Puducherry – Kamaraj is a popular former Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu).
Born in 1950, N Rangasamy was the tenth child of Nadesan Krishnasamy and Panchali, in Muthuraiyarpalayam in Puducherry. At a function after Rangasamy assumed office, his mother recalled how his father had wanted to get rid of baby NR, since a tenth child was considered inauspicious. “My husband asked me to drown the baby since a tenth born baby will bring ruin to the people, but I fought for my child’s right to live, and now he is the Chief Minister,” Panchali had proudly announced.
Rangasamy's family owned a small patch of land in the area that was being cultivated by his parents. An average student, he studied at the Muthuraiyarpalayam Government School, as better education was not affordable for the family. “Even in school he was an enigma. He spoke very little, and none of us knew what he was thinking or what he was planning to do,” a childhood friend remembers.
Once he finished school, Rangasamy studied BCom at Tagore Arts College, and went on to study law at Pondicherry Law College. “Until he was approached by school mate VM Pethaperumal, Rangasamy had no plans to enter politics. He was an avid follower of Kamaraj, and believed in his healthcare and education plans, which was what drove him to enter the Congress,” the friend adds.
For his first election campaign, Rangasamy is believed to have sold his family’s agricultural land. “All the people knew him well. He was a common face in the Thattanchavady area, and had several friends, from tea stall owners to vegetable sellers. When he managed to win the seat in 1991, beating his former political mentor Pethaperumal, it was surprising, but not unexpected,” former Chief Minister and political analyst, D Ramachandran, says.
Since 1991, Rangasamy has been winning with huge margins. “There is a perception that he has given employment and other benefits to the people in his constituency, and he has helped improve the quality of life for the residents of the area.So a number of people have taken a decision to move to Kadirkamam and Thattanchavady over the past 20 years,” a member of the Congress, who wished to remain anonymous, remarks.
Rangasamy entered politics through the Janata Dal, which was led by Pethaperumal. Following a disagreement over allotment of seats, he quit the party and joined the Congress in 1991, where he defeated Pethaperumal and became the Minister for Agriculture and Cooperation. In 1996, he became the Minister for Education, and in 2001 the Chief Minister for the first time.
He continued as CM after the next elections in 2006, but a nine-month tussle with his cabinet ministers in the DMK-Congress alliance government led to him being replaced by V Vaithilingam, who was in charge for three years.
About four months ahead of the 2011 Assembly polls, Rangasamy started his own party, the All India NR Congress. The newly-formed party allied with Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). When NR Congress won 15 of the 17 seats, NR took a decision to form a government with independent candidate VMC Sivakumar, dissolving the alliance with AIADMK. Expectedly, his move earned him the disfavour of the AIADMK, then the ruling party in Tamil Nadu.
Despite his schemes, the Pondicherry CM has managed to make quite a few enemies, with many of his friends and close allies deserting him. His current government has been blamed for the closing down of industries, a deteriorating law and order situation, tussles with several senior IAS officers and Lieutenant Governors, and mismanagement of funds leading to many government staff not receiving salaries for months together.
While people still continue to have a soft corner for NR, a growing discontent is evident. “He is a good man, and is always looking out for the people. Even if an auto driver calls him for a family function, he will attend. But he is surrounded by dishonest people, and as a result his schemes have not been implemented,” R Govindan, a resident of Bahour, said.
Over the years, none of these schemes have been properly implemented, and the UT’s funds have been mismanaged, he adds.
“This government has failed to deliver to the people,” V Narayanasamy, former Union Minister for State, and Congress party member said. The Congress and other parties have alleged that Rangasamy, along with other MLAs, have provided backdoor entry to government jobs, with several thousand such jobs being allocated in various government-run corporations and departments in the past couple of months. There has been no infrastructure development, with many projects remaining on paper for years. There has been an increase in law and order troubles for the seaside Union Territory as well.
The government also seems to be mired in debt, with the amount crossing Rs 6000 crore, with an annual interest of over Rs 500 crores. Since 2011, the borrowings have increased, but most freebies announced still remain on paper.
Through it all Rangasamy maintains his cool. While other politicians are busy this time brokering alliances, he has been visiting temples and performing poojas. And while the people express discontent with the current government, he is still confident of winning. “His aim is to remain Chief Minister for as long as he is alive, and is willing to sacrifice anything to ensure he remains in power,” an ally said. For now, any question to Rangasamy by the media is answered by an evasive “Paarpom” (We will see).
To quote one of the party’s MLAs - “It is tough to understand what Rangasamay is planning. Sometimes we wonder if he is able to understand himself”.