BJP National President JP Nadda’s two-day visit to Tamil Nadu has left a war of words, with a faux pas by him over an AIIMS project inviting ridicule from the DMK-led ruling coalition.
Nadda’s visit, which ends on Friday, has been touted as a prelude to the start of the BJP’s 2024 election campaign. The choice of one of its venues, Sivaganga, was also significant as this is the constituency from which Karti Chidambaram, the son of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, won last time out, beating senior BJP leader H Raja. While Raja is reportedly not very keen on running again from here, BJP President K Annamalai is focused on the seat, underscoring its importance to the party.
However, the BJP’s plans lost some momentum when Nadda, in his speech to industrialists and some well-known figures in Madurai on Thursday, claimed that a planned AIIMS project in Madurai was 95% complete.
Soon after, two MPs from the Madurai region, Su Venkatesan of the CPM and Manickam Tagore of Congress (both part of the state government), visited the Austinpatti site near Madurai proposed for the project and highlighted all that stood there a composite wall. The two also carried placards asking, “Where is the 95% of the work at AIIMS Madurai completed?”
In the speech, Nadda said he was proud to say that the Rs 1,264 crore project had been successfully implemented, adding: “Today, 95% of the work at AIIMS has been completed. Very soon it will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
Nadda also spoke about Rs 550 crore being allocated for an international airport in Madurai and hinted that the delay was at the expense of the state government. “About 633 acres of land are required but the Tamil Nadu government has only given 543 acres. We are still waiting to see if the government will give us the land to build Madurai Airport with international standards for better connectivity and logistics,” he said.
CPM leader Venkatesan, who visited the AIIMS site on Friday, said the project is indeed awaiting Union Cabinet approval after its total cost was revised to Rs 1,900 crore from the original estimate of Rs 1,200 crore before the Covid pandemic be.
“The Union Ministry of Health has cited this as the reason for the delay in the pending tenders for the project,” he said, asking how Nadda could say the project was complete and would be inaugurated by the prime minister.
He also questioned Nadda’s claims regarding Madurai Airport, saying the Union Civil Aviation Ministry had previously refuted those reports.
Congressman Tagore tweeted that he had come to Madurai to “see with joy” the work of 95% as he “is the Loksabha member of Virudhunagar in which Thoppur AIIMS falls”. In a video posted by the site, Tagore said, “It is very amazing that a former health minister (Nadda) lies like this… This is how (the BJP) cheats the people of Tamil Nadu.”
Karur Congressman Jothimani. said: “Madurai AIIMS: Even the existing stone is missing!”
A senior BJP leader said Nadda was not to blame for what happened. “Someone misinformed him about the status of the AIIMS project and it backfired,” he said, adding that their main goal of reclaiming Sivaganga is on track. “It (Nadda’s rally) was essentially a preparation to win the Lok Sabha constituency from Congress.”
What struck DMK was Nadda’s remarks at another public meeting Thursday in Karaikudi, where he claimed the party’s leaders were “uneducated” and called it a dynasty party.
“I’ve been told that they (the DMK) are against the National Education Policy and NEET,” he said. “[That’s]what happens when uneducated leaders are at the forefront of affairs … and they talk about education.”
The BJP President added: “Can DMK talk about development? Their D stands for Dynasty, M for Money Fraud and K for Katta Panchayath (Kangaroo Dishes)… What was DMK’s contribution? They believe in hate and division, and what they lack is vision. Ideologically, the DMK is a big zero.”
He also claimed that many rural students were able to enroll in medical programs because of NEET. “It was Narendra Modi who made it possible to study medicine in regional languages,” Nadda said.
Tamil Nadu Finance Minister and DMK leader Palanivel Thiagarajan, known for his quick wit and impressive educational background, was quick to respond. “4 degrees in 4 different majors from 3 universities in 2 countries after passing several internationally standardized tests – I still can’t clear the JPN (JP Nadda) limit for ‘educated’,” Rajan tweeted, adding: ” If I’d just opted for an All Political Science degree instead, maybe I could have made it.”