Stalin aiming to piggyback on FM Thiagarajan's economic expertise for larger role?

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin is banking on MIT-educated former US-based banker PTR Thiagarajan to play a major role in future in national politics and to steady the ship of the state.
Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin (File Photo)
Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin (File Photo)


When Stalin, after his resounding success at the hustings in 2021, picked Thiagarajan as Finance Minister, eyebrows were raised in the traditional DMK political quarters, but the Chief Minister was adamant on naming Thiagarajan for the post. 
Thiagarajan is a product of MIT and has worked with Lehman Brothers in the US and with another international banking consortium in Singapore. 
After five world-renowned economists with divergent views on the subject -- Nobel laureate Esther Duflo, Raghuram Rajan, Aravind Subramanian, S. Narayanan and Jean Dreze -- were roped in as economic advisors to the Chief Minister, Thiagarajan proved that he means business and political observers and DMK watchers had to concede that Stalin was right and apt in his choice. 
The combination of Stalin and Thiagarajan has diversity but there are shades of unity between them in their backgrounds. Stalin is deeply rooted in Tamil Nadu and a grassroots politician learning the tricks of the trade from his astute father, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Late M Karunanidhi. Stalin climbed the political ladder step by step as a youth wing leader, then Mayor of Chennai to Deputy Chief Minister and now the Chief Minister. 
Thiagarajan has an enviable academic background with a degree in chemical engineering from one of India's premier institutes, National Institute of Technology (formerly Regional Engineering College), and an MBA in Financial Management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Just like Stalin, Thiagarajan has a good political pedigree with his grandfather P.T. Rajan having been the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and his father P.T.R. Palanivel Rajan, the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly. 
While Thiagarajan as Finance Minister gave tit for tat responses during the GST council meeting getting bouquets and brickbats with critics and the opposition attacking him for being a "motor mouth" and "arrogant", fellow party men and party cadres were supportive of him. They felt that he had raised Tamil pride nationally. 
The DMK government of Tamil Nadu led by Stalin assumed power after 10 years in the political wilderness and when it took office, the party had several issues to face including a debt-ridden economy and the second wave of the Covid pandemic. It had also to manage the freebie culture of the state. Money is a problem for the state and the presence of an economist like Thiagarajan could work to its advantage. 
When the country was facing a vaccine shortage during the second wave of the pandemic, Thiagarajan chipped in by reportedly approaching President Joe Biden through his friend in the US, Vijay Prabhakar, again hailing from Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The request was to provide 1 million doses of vaccine to India with a portion earmarked for Tamil Nadu. This was highly appreciated in Tamil Nadu. 
Now the million-dollar question is whether Thiagarajan will be to Stalin what Manmohan Singh was to Narasimha Rao. The combination of a brilliant mind of a politician in Rao and the brilliant mind of an economist in Singh lifted the country from the reality of an economic downturn to one with immense opportunities. 
Stalin is a shrewd politician and he knows what he wants to deliver at the grassroots. Having a trained economist as his Finance Minister has lifted his morale. It is possible that the wide-ranging contacts that Thiagarajan has with leaders abroad would be "capitalised" by the astute Stalin. 
With the 2024 general elections three years away, Stalin has already set his sights on a wider national role -- among it an effort to facilitate a post-poll alignment at the national level. The Chief Minister is riding piggyback on Thiagarajan to catapult him to the higher echelons of power and the combination is turning to be successful so far.

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