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Chief Minister M K Stalin has taken away the finance portfolio from Palanivel Thiagarajan and given it to Thangam Thennarasu. PTR will handle IT and he has thanked chief minister M K Stalin for the move.

Earlier Stalin had dismissed the PTR tapes as cheap politics. Palanivel Thiagarajan has sought to prove they are fakes

It is a sad day for politics that PTR cannot continue as finance minister because of the audio issue. Here’s why.

PTR has the most impressive professional resume for any politician in the state. Politics in India, just like journalism, frowns upon domain expertise. In advanced nations, professional achievement is seen as a big qualification for political position.

Professionals are often sneered upon in India. They are told they are not serious or not committed enough because they can always go back to another career. Leaders like people who are beholden to them and the organization, so have no life outside of it. People like PTR therefore will never be in the absolute core but will be kept in the periphery — outliers of various degrees.

But professionals bring much skill, talent and resoluteness of purpose to political positions. As finance minister, PTR has stuck to the fundamentals of economics even as he sought to fulfill the DMK’s welfare promises. He has kept deficits under control and sought to make entitlements reach true targets.

PTR has the most impressive professional resume for any politician in the state. Politics in India, just like journalism, frowns upon domain expertise.

The White Paper still remains a key document even if PTR has not moved ahead on his promise of once in a generation reforms. Transport and electricity department remain untouched even if, as a trained finance professional, he would have loved to turn them around. Over the long term, however, his involvement of expert economists in policy making and welfare delivery is only likely to benefit the state.

Typical of professionals with credentials, PTR has never minced words. He is blunt, in-your-face and unafraid to take on powerful people. He doesn’t play by the system’s rules on etiquette.

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This writer’s first meeting with PTR started with him candidly saying he doesn’t distribute cash to win elections, in an apparent reference to a curtain raiser to the 2016 elections in which I had discussed the issue and called it an abominable, even shameful aspect of TN elections. Even if PTR hadn’t said what he had said in the audio files, it would be very easy to imagine him saying them.

PTR has publicly talked about corruption in the administration. For instance, in an interview, he spoke of  half the revenue seeping out of the system in liquor sales, commercial taxes and mining, representing 2 to 3% of GSDP.

Tamil Nadu New Finance Minister Thangam Thenarasu (Photo credit: Facebook page of Thangam Thenarasu)

PTR may owe his current position in-part to his closeness to Stalin’s son-in-law Sabareesan but, knowing PTR, he could have easily said what he is alleged to have said in the tapes. It’s a part of his persona and, ironically enough, his stake in politics. His take has always been that he is not part of the muck and can walk away with his head held high to another career.

The White Paper still remains a key document even if PTR has not moved ahead on his promise of once in a generation reforms

If family background is important, PTR’s family goes back to the very origins of the Dravidian movement. His grandfather was pre-Periyar in the Justice Party and, incidentally enough, not a Periyarist. A Ganesha shrine is a remarkable little monument in PTR’s Chennai home. As a Dravidianist, PTR is comfortable being in a family of believers in the rationalist movement.

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Party stalwarts’ sons and grandsons call the shots in today’s DMK. PTR comes in that line but is overtly religious. He is the grandson of a man who contributed to lighting the fire of Sabarimala devotion in Tamil Nadu, not a man who owes everything to M Karunanidhi. His father, PTR Palanivel Rajan’s marginalization by Alagiri in Madurai may have goaded PTR to want to bounce back in the Stalin regime — show the world that his family shouldn’t be written off.

PTR is a welcome contrast to the typical career politician in the DMK and in other parties. We need more PTRs, not fewer.

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