Doctor-turned-IAS Santhosh Babu has always been an active bureaucrat and is known for his technical innovations. He held seven positions at one point of time when he was in office. In 2020, he took voluntary retirement from administrative service and shortly after, forayed into politics. He joined Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) late last year as General Secretary (Headquarters), also in charge of IT, data, policy, manifesto, special projects etc.
Contesting from Velachery constituency, Santhosh will be fighting AIADMK’s M K Ashok and Tamil Nadu Youth Congress president JMH Hassan. A few days ago, he tested positive for Coronavirus and was isolated for more than a week. However, this did not slow his campaign as he took to technology in a big way to reach out.
We caught up with the tech-savvy MNM candidate to know his vision for Velachery constituency.
Do you think your experience as a bureaucrat somehow enables you to be a good representative of the people?
That’s the beauty of being a bureaucrat; we build a good rapport with people. I spent 26 years of my life as an administrator. The experience that an IAS official has, also helps him think through and formulate policies, which is also one of the duties of legislators.
You have released a ward-level manifesto. What kind of work went behind it?
I made three visits to Velachery constituency to meet the constituents, understand the location and the problems that people are facing there. The third meeting was a detailed eight-hour meeting, during which the four Nagara Seyalalars [area secretaries] presented their ward-level manifestos.
During our constituency visits, we collected information on what residents want in the short-term, medium-term and long-term. It took a long time to understand the issues and propose solutions.
How has your COVID diagnosis affected your campaign and ground work?
Well, it came as a huge shock. But I have taken the digital route, even though my face is not known to people in Velachery constituency. My team and cadres have been travelling across the constituency to campaign on my behalf. I interact with people through Facebook and WhatsApp.
That being said, candidates need to go visit voters directly, meet people, greet them, listen to them in person…these are all part of a political campaign. But I am trying to make the most of the present circumstances.
How would you differentiate yourself from candidates in other parties? What are your promises and why should voters vote for you?
We have launched an exclusive website for Velachery that has all my details as well as details of MNM’s vision, promises and manifestos. We are the first to implement such an initiative in the state. We also have an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) system in place and hundreds of volunteers have signed up for campaigning and engaging in MNM’s activities.
What is your vision for Velachery?
I worked as a bureaucrat for 26 years and brought noteworthy transformation in the departments I was posted. People process and technology come together, if we set a vision. However, visioning is not a single man’s job, I had to raise the collective thoughts of everyone in my constituency.
I want infrastructure at Velachery constituency at par with Singapore’s. Besides funding, we need to understand the problems faced by people and take a 360-degree approach without any personal agenda. These are all things I have done when I was a bureaucrat.
What are the problems faced by the people of Velachery as you have gathered?
- Flooding: Since many parts of the constituency are low lying areas, people suffer every time it rains heavily. But it is purely a design issue and the solution should not be ephemeral; it should stand as an epitome of good governance.
- Battered roads: I plan to bring a multi-level parking system to ensure that the footpaths are free from encroachments and prevent haphazard parking.
- Delayed Velachery flyover project: COVID was one of the key reasons behind the delay and people are concerned about it.
- Piped water supply: Residents from some parts of the constituency do not have access
- Eco-restoration of Velachery lake: I have done a 3D rendering of the lake and have plans to restore it. Preserving water bodies and waterways in the constituency is important for holistic development.
So, what are the top three issues that you would like to address on priority in Velachery if elected?
Firstly, I want to bring a permanent solution to the flooding problem by providing world-class engineering solutions. I will expedite the pending flyover project and work out a seamless transport system using a single transport card.
The other things on my agenda are setting up a world-class secondary-care government hospital in the constituency and generally improving road ambience.
How do you rate the performance of the current MLA?
I have no idea. I don’t want to comment on it.
Besant Nagar beach also belongs to your constituency. Do you have any plans to beautify it?
Yes. I haven’t strategized concrete plans for the beach yet, but I will offer creative solutions that require behavioural change, not funds. I do not want to beautify things in isolation, but every corner of the constituency will be developed and beautified.
Velachery is one of the constituencies that has several active citizen groups. How do you plan to use this to advantage if elected?
I will reach out to everyone to take feedback about the key issues. We can use innovative methods to involve citizens and will create street-level committees.
MNM as a party is known to use technology extensively. How do you aim to reach and serve sections that have limited access to technology?
As far as I have observed, everyone uses technology in Tamil Nadu; but the level varies. But most of them at least use WhatsApp. The aim of MNM is to do politics in a different way altogether; we belong to a new generation where we govern using technology. We would like to do predictive governance, using emerging technologies like Blockchain — through this, people can feel the change in quality of governance.