July 09, 2020
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The arrest of former telecom minister A Raja gives a whole new twist to politics in Tamil Nadu. Will the DMK have to pay the price at the hustings?

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Chennai Corner

The question does not arise
The arrest of former telecom minister A Raja gives a whole new twist to politics in Tamil Nadu. Will the DMK become untouchable? The forthcoming assembly election will tell. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s trip to Delhi over last week-end is something he will not look back with relish. Karunanidhi, who is used to being in the driver’s seat when bargaining with allies, finds that he cannot call the shots anymore. There’s no easy way to say this – his three-day trip to Delhi will be remembered because of the embarrassment he was subjected to not only by PMK’s S Ramadoss but also the Congress. The only difference is that Ramadoss openly did it while the Congress was more sophisticated about its message that he cannot take that party for granted anymore. Combine that with a resurgent AIADMK chief Jayalalitha (who is on the verge of an alliance with Vijayakant’s DMDK) and the forthcoming assembly elections is going to be an uphill task for the DMK so hobbled by the Spectrum scam that there’s even talk that deputy CM Stalin might contest from a rural constituency because 2G has not entered the lexicon of villages of TN whereas urban voters are all-knowing. Stalin and his father, Karunanidhi, were elected from Thousand Lights and Chepauk constituencies in Chennai respectively in the 2006 assembly elections.

Karunanidhi’s famed equation with Congress president Sonia Gandhi is not going to work – besides, this time even  she made him wait a grueling six hours – because he has to deal with Rahul Gandhi who has made it clear that the Congress should be given 78 seats (two seats per parliamentary constituency) to 80 seats this time. The Congress was given 48 seats in the 2006 assembly elections and won 32. 

“The question does not arise.” These were the words Karunanidhi used when asked about an alliance with the PMK, after the latter’s chief embarrassed him by contradicting him publicly about the octogenarian’s statement in Delhi that the Vanniar party is part of the DMK alliance. But there are those who will use the exact same words to contradict Stalin’s recent assertion (apparently reacting to his father’s hint that he would prefer to be the leader (thalaivar) of the party to being the CM (muthalvar) of the state) that Karunanidhi will come back as CM for the sixth time.

Teaching an old dog new tricks
But despite coming back empty-handed, Karunanidhi put on a brave face when reporters met him. “The sky was clear. No hurdles on the path..generally, the journey was good,” his standard flippant come back when asked about the Delhi trip. He even said the issue of sharing power with the Congress (in the event the DMK-Congress alliance comes to power) did not come up, but Delhi corridors are buzzing with the news that the grand old party is demanding its pound of flesh after propping up the DMK’s “minority” government and even having its way with the UPA at the centre. With Karunanidhi averse to sharing power, despite regular demands by state Congress leaders, he’s going to have to learn to be accommodating, something he has not done in 60 years of his political life.

Same old, same old
Apart from the soap opera in the Karunanidhi clan, the other "blow hot, blow cold" relationship Karunanidhi has is with S Ramadoss. After Karunanidhi’s  latest rebuff, Ramadoss should worry. And he is, going by his mea culpa after it seemed the octogenarian had closed the door on him: “I never said there was no alliance with the DMK. My statements are being distorted by the media.” Ramadoss is not used to eating humble pie but this is his second time. The last time was in June last year when Karunanidhi dug in his heels and refused to offer DMK support to get Anbumani Ramadoss re-elected to the Rajya Sabha. At the time, an insulted Ramadoss had refused to commit to an alliance with the DMK although Karunanidhi, knowing Ramadoss’ propensity to opportunistically switch sides, dangled the carrot that the PMK could expect his party’s support next time.

But this time Ramadoss, who can write off any chance of going with the AIADMK after he insulted Jayalalitha weeks after the PMK lost all the seven seats she allotted to him for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, has decided that pacifying the octogenarian  and rejoining the alliance is the way to go despite the fallout of the arrest of Raja.

In fact, hours after Raja’s arrest,  PMK president GK Mani met Karunanidhi at the state secretariat after a meeting of a committee (Mani is part of the all-party committee which met to discuss bids for colour television sets to be distributed free to the poor). “The 15-minute meeting helped clear the air,” says a PMK leader.

After Karunanidhi’s snub, even DMK’s Salem strongman Veerapandi Arumugham, currently in hospital, dinned some sense into his PMK callers who were ostensibly on a “get well” visit to the leader. Arumugham was instrumental in bringing the PMK onboard in the first place saying that its sway over Vanniars would benefit the DMK. Now a PMK leader says, “We will join the alliance if they give us 40 seats.”

Ramadoss apparently overplayed his hand in trying to get 50 seats (in 2006, the PMK was allocated 31) and he thought giving attitude was the way to go.  There is very little chance of a third front now that the Congress has decided to sink or swim with the DMK. That leaves the famed opportunist, who’s acquired the weathervane tag for his agility to jump into the alliance that will win, in a dilemma.

No plastic in Mamallapuram
From February 10, littering Mamallapuram, a World Heritage site, with plastic will be illegal.  It’s commendable, but will it work? I was there in December, and a start was not made although the campaign to ban plastic started in August after the Mamallapuram Town Panchayat passed a resolution in April last year.

“Every day, on an average, about six tonnes of garbage is generated from 5,000 households. Of this, over 500 kg comes from cheap plastic items. In addition, one lakh cheap plastic cups are used by over 300 tea stalls here a month," says V Parisutham of Hand In Hand (HIH), an NGO, which joined hands with the panchayat to make Mahabs (as it is popularly called) a model town. HIH has given two large netbags for free to every household so they can collect any plastic garbage that is generated. There are stickers on shops, autos, buses and houses apart from a mobile audio campaign to bring awareness that plastic is non-biodegradable and therefore bad for a town that attracts hordes of tourists, domestic and international.

 “Traders and the local body have been extremely cooperative. Without their support, the idea would have been a non-starter” says HIH project director Shiva T Krishnamoorthy.  Adds Mamallapuram panchayat president P A Yashwant Rao: “The credit for the novel idea goes to all stakeholders – the local body, HIH, traders and residents. We want to set an example.”

Let’s hope it works because this government needs to urgently replicate it in all the tourist towns if tourists should not carry back memories of mounds of plastic garbage which is what I remember of Ooty and Yercaud especially which I visited during the Christmas holidays. Ooty has learnt its lesson when it comes to exploiting land after nearly 500 landslides last year which brought down many an illegal structure. Even today demolition is on to raze hotels and guest houses that came up to fleece tourists.

But Yercaud is another story. It’s not over-run by hotels, but it could use a lesson in hygiene urgently. The lake area is one big urinal, so is the bus stand and many other places. If tourists want to eat out, there are hardly any restaurants. What was startling was that the local population, barring a few exceptions, have not benefitted from the influx of tourists. And that is why you can’t help notice how poor the locals are. Vegetables are sold not by the kilo but by the handful. So also fruit. "Progress" has come in the form of plastic packets of snacks fluttering in all shops. So how Yercaud is going to begin to go about banning plastics is a million dollar question.

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