Chennai mayor Priya has come a long way, and it’s not by clinging on to CM Stalin’s car – Times of India

Chennai News

On March 4, she stood there in the royal Ripon Buildings, wearing the mayoral robe and holding the mayoral sceptre. And they called the 28-year-old mayor a kid. A little more than nine months later, on Saturday, the day after cyclone Mandous hissed past Chennai, R Priya was seen clinging on to one of the cars in M K Stalin’s convoy – something the chief minister’s security guards do. Greater Chennai Corporation commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi, too, hopped on.

I found it fun, some found it funny, some others said it was demeaning for a mayor. A colleague recollected how J Jayalalithaa got brickbats for making senior minister S D Somasundaram do the same during one of her election campaigns in the 1990s. If Priya had done the balancing act on Stalin’s instruction, it would’ve reflected poorly on the chief minister’s image as much as the mayor’s. It turns out that Priya and Bedi were walking, and when they couldn’t keep pace with the convoy, they hopped onto the pedestal of one of the moving cars.

Now, back to the ‘kid’ who has grown in the mayoral gown. Remember her first press conference as the Chennai mayor? Well, the first one was called off just when she was to address journalists, apparently on ‘instructions from above’. After reporters protested, she, however, did face microphones later that day, though under the ‘protective’ shadow of minister Sekar Babu. “What did the CM tell you?” asked a reporter. Before the mayor could reply, the minister prompted: “To work well.” The microphones captured the minister’s voice as clearly as the parroting mayor’s. And then, as the gathering was dispersing, he said: “Kuzhanthaikitta poi ippadi kelvi kekkera … (Is that a question you ask a kid?)” Babu’s kid giggled and shuffled off.

Today, though not completely out of the party elders’ shadow, Priya comes across as a confident and articulate mayor. Journalists on the civic beat who interact with her say the mayor tries to keep herself updated on civic matters and has a good understanding of how things work in the corporation. After her rounds of cyclone-hit neighbourhoods on Saturday, she took journalists’ questions with ease, listing out the number of fallen trees, earthmovers and teams at work. The spoiler: Almost breathing down her neck was, again, the same minister. Now, that’s a problem. When a 29-year-old woman is trying to perform her duties as the mayor of a metropolitan city, the least her ‘guardians’ can do is give her the freedom to do it.

Priya might have got the DMK’s mayoral ticket by virtue of being the granddaughter of Chengai Sivam, a two-time DMK legislator from Perambur, but that criterion should not be her handicap. The minister who loves to be the mayor’s sentinel and all others who are out to ‘protect’ Chengai Sivam’s granddaughter might have seen her grow up as a child. Let that care and concern not impede her performance as the mayor. I am not a protocol purist who finds fault with Priya holding an umbrella for Sekar Babu late October. Nothing wrong if it was her casual gesture, but the minister shouldn’t be basking in pride for having the mayor do that.

Many Chennaiites may not know the city mayor’s post is now reserved for a dalit woman, and it doesn’t interest the average citizen to know the mayor’s caste, but many politicians including some councillors – and some bureaucrats – are unable to digest a young dalit woman with a postgraduate degree in commerce is trying to do her duty well. For this reason, some want to help her, some others want to halt her. She can do better with neither.


Views expressed above are the author’s own.