Home India Politics Radhika Selvi: from gangster’s widow to home minister

Radhika Selvi: from gangster’s widow to home minister

Chennai/New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) Then recently widowed, she campaigned in Tamil Nadu with a newborn baby under a blazing sun and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004 with a big margin. Meet Radhika Selvi, the new face of the DMK inducted as minister of state for home in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government Friday.

The 31-year-old politician, who has studied only up to Class 10 but mentions in her profile that she is a javelin thrower and a kabaddi player, will make an entry into the high echelons of government at a time when DMK’s Harvard-trained Dayanidhi Maran resigned as cabinet minister following a feud in party patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s family.

As she was administered the oath by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, life seems to have taken a dramatic and unforeseen turn for Selvi who had in August 2001 married Pannayar Venkatesh, said to be a gangster with clout in the southern districts as well as Chennai.

When Selvi’s name was floated as DMK’s choice as new addition in the council of ministers, many – including the ministers – were curious to know who she was. “Who is she? Does she come to parliament often,” asked a minister. Selvi, a backbencher amidst the other MPs from her state in the Lok Sabha, was not at all a known face in the parliament corridors.

In September 2003, Venkatesh was pulled out of his flat and killed by police even as his pregnant wife and neighbours watched. Hailing from a well-off Nadar family in Tuticorin district, Venkatesh was wanted in more than 20 criminal cases, including extortion and holding of kangaroo courts. His killing is said to have angered the Nadar community.

The Nadar factor is important, as by promoting Selvi to the union cabinet, DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi has tried to appease the community while also putting in place actor Sarath Kumar, a former member of the party.

The DMK has been having trouble for the last few years from Sarath Kumar, who is a Nadar leader. Just before the May 2006 assembly elections, he had switched to the rival AIADMK.

Soon after the DMK won the assembly polls, he and his wife quit the AIADMK and attempted to return to his former party. Unsuccessful, Sarath Kumar recently announced a new political party for the Nadars.

Selvi is said to be close to Rajathi Ammal, Karunanidhi’s wife, who too comes from the Nadar community. The DMK has thus tried to kill two birds with one stone by pushing Selvi.

During her stint in parliament, she has been involved with health issues.

In a noteworthy intervention that she made in parliament, Selvi had said, “It has become an accepted practice in some draconian (sic) states to liquidate its opponents. In this motherland of ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) and ‘dharma’ (uprightness), heinous crimes are carried out, ruining the lives of innocent families of victims of such crimes. So my prayer is that at least now, this august house should use its enormous powers to stop such heinous crimes and also take adequate steps to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crime to book and render justice.”