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Punjabi man throws hat in Tamil Nadu poll ring

A 66-year-old retired IAS officer, a native of Punjab, is fighting the May 16 Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu on the BJP’s ‘lotus’ symbol, in a rare instance of a north Indian testing electoral fortunes in the Dravidian heartland.Ujagar Singh, a native of Khiali, about 21 km from Barnala in Punjab, is a candidate of the Akila Indiya Makkal Kalvi Munnetra Kazhagam (AIMKMK), an ally of BJP, from Sozhinganallur constituency in the city outskirts.A former IAS officer of Tamil Nadu cadre of the 1977-batch, he has held various positions in the state government and retired as Special Commissioner, Government Data Centre, here in 2010.Though he belongs to AIMKMK, he is contesting on the symbol of BJP in tune with the arrangement between the allies.It is not quite usual to find a north Indian contesting election down south, especially in Tamil Nadu where political leaders often cry foul over “imposition of Sanskrit or Hindi” by parties holding the reins of power at the Centre.Asked what prompted him to jump into Tamil Nadu politics though he happens to be from Punjab, Ujagar Singh says, “I was convinced about the welfare programmes of the party like free education. Moreover I was requested by AIMKMK chief Devanathan to fight the polls and I know him, he is a good leader.”

When IAS officials from other states mostly go back to their native places 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, my decision to stay back is in fulfilment of my promise to late Chief Minister (AIADMK founder) M G Ramachandran, a great humanist who wanted officials like me to stay back post retirement,” he says, adding the idea was to continue to work for the welfare of the people.Praising people of Tamil Nadu again, Singh says, “I am very happy to be here. Tamils are such a friendly people, they help you. My entire family is settled in Chennai, though I have several of my relatives living in Punjab.”Though his spoken Tamil cannot be termed very good — in terms of pronunciation — he still manages to communicate well.He says, “I can read, write and speak Tamil as well. I learnt Tamil from Pandit Srinivasan in Thanjavur.”Recalling his efforts to study the language, he says, “I used to devote at least two to three hours everyday to learn Tamil. Now I read all Tamil newspapers and magazines.”

On people’s response to his campaign, he says, “They welcome me. I am happy.”To a question on seeking votes after working nearly 40 years as a bureaucrat, he said, “I am not a politician (yet), but I tell people that I understand their problems better than other candidates by virtue of my long stint in administration.I will solve their problems.”Persons like Ujagar Singh very rarely appear on Tamil Nadu’s political horizon. Nearly four decades ago, a similar name was in the poll fray in the state.It was SD Ugam Chand, a native of Rajasthan and a businessman settled in Chengelpet near here. He won in 1980 and 1989 Assembly elections as a candidate of the AIADMK from Madurantakam constituency.