Chennai: Former vice chancellor of Manormanium Sundaranar University Dr V. Vasanthi Devi, who is contesting from the RK Nagar Assembly constituency taking on Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa as a common candidate of People’s Welfare Alliance, says she has been a political person all through and only electoral politics is new to her. In a wide-ranging interview to Deccan Chronicle, the 77-year-old educationist and activist also said that her fight in the election is against the system that steeped in corruption but not against individuals.
Q From an academician and activist, you are contesting the elections for the first time. How different it is?
It will be different but not to such a great extent. I think I have been in some kind of politics all along. Education is a deeply political issue. It is the big politics of education that has been working and shaping the country in many ways. It is politics that determines who gains and who loses in the education - privatisation and so many other things. So I think I look at myself has already been in political field. Not only in education, I have involved myself in human rights issue and people’s struggle in many ways. I am one of the office bearers of the teachers’ movement in 1980s. So I used to get out in the streets and protest. I also went to prison when I was arrested by MGR government for a few days. So politics is not new to me. Only electoral politics is new. Even recently I have been addressing several meetings in connection with JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Rohit Vemula (Dalit scholar who committed suicide in Hyderabad University) issues. So I have been a political person all through.
Q You have been extensively campaigning for the better education system in the country. In this election, political parties have promised to replace samacheer kaliv thittam curriculum with CBSE text books. How can our education system be improved?
In fact, the entire education system must be revolutionised and totally changed. The education system that prevails today is one that definitely would not be able to help the masses to come up. Education is the only mode through which people who have been deprived for centuries through the caste system can find a way for upward mobility and their aspirations for equality. Liberation in the large sense to the term can be achieved through the education.
If we want to be a developed country, we should emulate the education system that exists and existed for a long time in the developed countries. We are dreaming of becoming a superpower, but the basic foundation of the development in all the countries that reached high level of development like US, Europe and East Asia is education. In all these countries, the only education system that prevails is a common school system in neighbourhood schools where the state totally funds the education and it is totally free for everybody. All those who are within the neighbourhood, if you cover a school and draw a circle marking every neighbourhood within that area, irrespective of your class and economical levels, all children study in the same school. And then there is the public school system that is totally funded by the state and education through mother tongue. So that is the only system that prevails. We are not talking about anything new. There is no historical example of any country developing through any other system except through totally state funded education system.
The privatised and commercialised system where education is totally stratified through thousand levels of schools where those who can pay very high fees go to better schools and the poorest pushed to the government schools does not exist anywhere. This exists only here.
Q Who approached you to contest the elections from RK Nagar seat?
A Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader asked me first. Already they had consulted with their alliance partners on this and they asked me.
Q When he asked you to contest, how did you get convinced?
Initially I was hesitant. In fact, I thought it is unthinkable. Then they convinced me. And then some other leader of the political party also spoke to me. Only then I agreed.
Q You are contesting against Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa in the RK Nagar Assembly seat. How do you feel?
I am not contesting against Jayalalithaa but against all the other candidates. It is not just a fight against someone. It is fight for certain things. Particularly against a kind of system that is steeped in utter corruption and this corruption has sucked the life out of every sector of social life and economic possibility. Tamil Nadu is only state that has not set up Lokayuktha when all other states have done it. Why is that we have not done it? This is a very central issue that needs to be raised.
Generally, the prevailing political culture in the country needs to be changed. People must be made to believe there are alternatives. Now people are resigned themselves to corruption and there is no other go. As a former Chief Election Commissioner said, Tamil Nadu is the only state where the electorate has been corrupted, because this kind of paying for votes is most rampant in Tamil Nadu. This corruption has seeped into each of our blood cells. That is why it is impossible to bring about any big change in the state. Let us say for education you allocate `10,000 crore, but when it reaches the people it is reduced to `5,000 crore or less because of corruption.
Q What are the policies of People’s Welfare Alliance’s Common Minimum Programme that you concur with?
Leaving out their individual programmes, look at their CMP which all the parties agreed to place before the electorate. I am in agreement with most of what they said in the CMP. It begins with the statement on a large political context in the country which is being determined by the neo liberal policies from the late 1980s and it starts with a critique of that. Most of the problems of the state and constituency are located within that context. In such a case, I am definitely in agreement with their CMP.
Q What will be your main campaigning plank among voters in RK Nagar constituency?
There are some constituency specific issues no doubt. For most of the people the issues that deeply affect their lives are not constituency specific.
For example, I did talk to some common people in that constituency. I asked the men and women what are their major problems. They said unemployment. They say there are no jobs for their children even if they are educated. This is not specific to RK Nagar. This cannot be solved with a solution specific to RK Nagar.
Our children are not able to get good education while better off people go to better schools paying high fees and they get better education. We have to go to government schools where the quality of education is very poor. This is not specific to RK Nagar. You cannot today in this highly interconnected world — where we say that this is a globalised world — no constituency can be isolated and its problem addressed.
There are certain constituencies in which certain problems might look like being constituency specific. For example, there is a large chunk of scavenger community people living here and you have fishing community people as well.
And then you have issues like extremely crowded living areas and traffic congestion. There is a big dumping yard in Kodungaiyur, which is the main source of health problem in that area. These are some of the geographically specific issues. But I really think you have to make people understand that they want a better life, jobs, better education and health care. Healthcare is another highly privatised area in TN. This again is a totally contradict to the system prevailing in the developed countries where the state takes over the responsibility of providing free healthcare. So these are the basic issues people in the area face....