Sitharaman bonds with southern students over lunch at Andhra Bhavan, talks politics before key polls

New Delhi, May 11 (PTI) Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a surprise visit to the iconic Andhra Bhavan in the heart of Delhi on Saturday, two days before polling in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, interacting with some students of Delhi University.

Speaking to around 20-odd students from the two Telugu-speaking states as well as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, Sitharaman discussed issues ranging from education and politics to the economic situation, in what appeared to be an attempt at outreach ahead of the May 13 elections in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where the BJP aims to expand its base.

Polling for Andhra Pradesh’s 25 Lok Sabha and 175 assembly seats will be held simultaneously on May 13. Telangana’s 17 Lok Sabha seats will also go to the polls on the same day.

As the students savoured their lunch, Sitharaman seamlessly transitioned into the role of a caring mother figure, ensuring they were eating properly.

“I am listening, you please eat,” she gently reminded them, her eyes scanning the plates for any neglected vegetables.

Throughout the hour-long interaction, the finance minister struck a warm and approachable tone, candidly sharing anecdotes from her student days.

When a curious student asked about her life after completing her undergraduate degree in Madurai, Sitharaman recounted her solitary journey to Delhi to appear for the entrance exam at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus.

“It was truly an experience. I appeared for three subjects and finally chose MA economics. Thereafter, I did MBA and pursued PhD but could not complete it,” she said, taking the students back in time.

The discussion took a political turn when Kushal, a student from Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh and pursuing BA in political science, sought advice on starting a political career.

Sitharaman’s response was pragmatic.

“First complete your studies. It is absolutely wrong to pursue politics by giving up your studies. You should take up politics as an alternative career,” she said. “I joined politics very late and the party gave me the opportunity.”

As the conversation progressed, Sitharaman addressed various concerns raised by the students.

When Priyam, a law student, voiced apprehension about discrimination faced by Tamil students in Delhi while discussing Tamil politics, the finance minister sought to reassure him.

“There is no difference in politics done in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. We should be proud of our origin and the state. We should not let ourselves down,” she said.

On the delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies, a contentious topic for southern states, Sitharaman emphasised the constitutional process.

“It is not a BJP body but a constitutional body that will decide it after due consultation with the states,” she explained, adding, “A trusted body will decide. Before anything is decided, we should not worry that southern states will lose out.”

Sitharaman also weighed in on the debate over freebies, stating that the Centre advises the states to use taxpayer money responsibly.

“We tell them during formal interactions that it is the taxpayers’ money that is spent on welfare schemes. You should use taxpayer money responsibly. We can tell once, not many times,” she said.

Addressing concern over the lack of employment opportunities, the finance minister pointed to the ongoing churn in different sectors.

“There is demand for those honing new skills and, accordingly, students should get ready for the future needs,” she said.

As the interaction drew to a close, Sitharaman rose and took selfies with the students, apologising for extending their “half-hour lunch” to an hour.

Before leaving, she stopped to check seasonal mangoes at a south Indian grocery shop outside the Andhra Bhavan, posing for a photo with the shopkeeper and addressing the media.

Expressing optimism about the BJP’s prospects in the two Telugu-speaking states, Sitharaman said, “There is a positive response to the BJP alliance in the two southern states. Revenue-surplus Telangana has turned into a debt state due to corruption and false promises. I believe people will support the BJP.”

She also hoped for good support for the party in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP is contesting the elections in Andhra Pradesh in an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Pawan Kalyan’s Janasena.

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