The missing Madurai AIIMS: BJP chief Nadda hits a wall, tonne of bricks after ‘95% complete’ claim

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BJP National president J P Nadda’s two-day visit to Tamil Nadu has left a war of words in its wake, with a faux pas by him over an AIIMS project inviting taunts by the DMK-led ruling coalition.

The visit by Nadda, ending Friday, was touted as a prelude to the launch of the BJP’s 2024 election campaign. The choice of one of his venues, Sivaganga, was also significant as this is the constituency from which Karti Chidambaram, the son of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, won last time, defeating senior BJP leader H Raja. While Raja is said to not be keen to contest from here again, BJP state president K Annamalai has been focusing on the seat, underlining its importance for the party.

However, the BJP’s plans lost some steam over Nadda’s claim — in his speech to industrials and some noted personalities — in Madurai Thursday, that a planned AIIMS project at Madurai was 95% complete.

Soon after, two MPs from the Madurai region, Su Venkatesan of the CPM and Manickam Tagore of the Congress (both are part of the government in the state), visited the site earmarked for the project at Austinpatti near Madurai, and highlighted that all that stood there was a compound wall. The two also carried placards, asking: “Where is the 95% work completed at AIIMS Madurai?”

In the speech, Nadda said he was proud to say that the project worth Rs 1,264 crore had been implemented successfully, adding: “Today, 95% of the work at AIIMS has been completed. Very soon it will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

Nadda also talked about Rs 550 crore being allotted for an international airport in Madurai, hinting that the delay on it was on account of the state government. “Some 633 acres of land is required, but the Tamil Nadu government has given only 543 acres. We are still waiting to see if the government gives us the land to make Madurai airport of international standards, for better connectivity and logistics,” he said.

CPM leader Venkatesan, who visited the AIIMS site Friday, said the project was actually waiting for the Union Cabinet’s approval after its overall cost had been revised to Rs 1,900 crore from the initial estimate of Rs 1,200 crore before the Covid pandemic.

“The Union Health Ministry has cited this as a reason for the delay in floating tenders for the project,” he said, asking how Nadda could say the project was complete and was going to be dedicated by the PM.

He also questioned Nadda’s claims regarding the Madurai airport, saying the Union Civil Aviation Ministry had refuted these reports earlier.

Congress MP Tagore tweeted that he had come to Madurai to “happily see” the 95% work, being “the Loksabha member of Virudhunagar in which Thoppur AIIMS falls”. In a video posted from the site, Tagore said: “It is very amazing that a former health minister (Nadda) lies like this… This is the way (the BJP) cheats, betrays the people of Tamil Nadu.”

The Congress’s Karur MP, Jothimani. said, “Madurai AIIMS: Even the existing brick is missing!”

A senior BJP leader said Nadda was not to blame for what happened. “Someone briefed him wrongly about the AIIMS project status, and that backfired badly,” he said, adding that their main objective, of winning back Sivaganga, was on course. “It (Nadda’s rally) was essentially preparation to capture the Lok Sabha constituency from the Congress.”

What the DMK took offence to were Nadda’s remarks at another public meeting on Thursday, at Karaikudi, where he suggested that leaders of the party were “uneducated” and called it a dynasty party.

“I was told that they (the DMK) are opposing the National Education Policy and NEET,” he said. “(This is) what happens when uneducated leaders are at the helm of affairs… and they talk about education.”

The BJP president added: “Can the DMK talk about development? Their D stands for dynasty, M for money swindling, and K for katta panchayath (kangaroo courts)… What has been the contribution of the DMK? They believe in hatred and division, and what they lack is vision. Ideologically, the DMK is a big zero.”

He also claimed that many students from rural regions had been able to enrol in medical courses due to NEET. “It was Narendra Modi who made it possible to study medicine in regional languages,” Nadda said.

Tamil Nadu Finance Minister and DMK leader Palanivel Thiagarajan, who is known for his repartee and his impressive educational background, was quick to retort. “4 degrees in 4 different majors from 3 universities in two countries, after clearing multiple international standardised tests — still can’t clear JPN (J P Nadda) cut-off for ‘educated’,” Rajan tweeted, adding: “If only I’d opted for a degree in ‘Entire Political Science instead, perhaps I’d have made the cut.”