A Punjab-native turbaned Sikh, retired IAS officer (66) is fighting the May 16 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) symbol, in a rare instance of a north Indian testing electoral fortunes in Dravidian south.
Ujagar Singh of Khiali, about 21 km from Barnala in Punjab, is a candidate of the Akila Indiya Makkal Kalvi Munnetra Kazhagam (AIMKMK), an ally of the BJP, from Sozhinganallur in Chennai’s outskirts. The 1977-batch former Indian Administrative Service officer of Tamil Nadu cadre held various positions in the state government and retired as special commissioner, Government Data Centre, here in 2010. He belongs to the AIMKMK but is contesting on the BJP symbol in tune with the arrangement between the allies.
It is not usual to find a north Indian contesting election down south, in Tamil Nadu especially, where political leaders often cry foul over the “imposition of Sanskrit or Hindi” by parties in power at the Centre. Asked what prompted him to jump into Tamil Nadu politics, though he happens to be from Punjab, Ujagar Singh said: “I was convinced about the welfare party’s welfare programmes such as free education. Moreover, AIMKMK chief Devanathan requested me to fight the polls and I know him to be a good leader.”
When most IAS officers go back to their native states after retirement, what prompted him to stay back? He says: “Tamil people are very kind, nice, and large-hearted. They have no jealousy and no chauvinism like you find in some other places in our country. Also, I promised late chief minister (AIADMK founder) MG Ramachandran, who wanted good officers to stay back post retirement to continue working for the people.”
His entire family is settled in Chennai, though he has several relatives in Punjab. His spoken Tamil cannot be termed very good (in terms of pronunciation) but he manages to communicate well. He says: “I can read, write, and speak Tamil. I learnt it from Pandit Srinivasan in Thanjavur.”
Recalling his efforts to study the language, he says: “I used to give it at least two to three hours a day. Now I read all Tamil newspapers and magazines.” On people’s response to his campaign, he says: “They welcome me.” Asked why he seeks votes after working almost 40 years as a bureaucrat, he said: “I am not a politician (yet) but I understand people’s problems better than other candidates by the virtue of my long stint in the administration.”
Leaders like Ujagar Singh appear on Tamil Nadu’s political horizon rarely. Rajasthan’s SD Ugam Chand, a businessman settled in Chengelpet near here, won the assembly election in 1980 and 1989 as a candidate of the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) from Madurantakam constituency.