Shock and awe
The pictures put out by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations of partymen offering flowers — bouquets are in and ponnadais (shawls) that former CM Karunanidhi was greeted with, are out since Jayalalitha assumed office on May 16 this year — to wish the chief minister on her completing 100 days as CM are revealing and a little amusing. There are some partymen who almost bent over double while offering flowers, so much in awe and reverence do they hold amma. They used to say about former PM Indira Gandhi that she was the only man in her cabinet. Even if it is politically incorrect to employ such a description now, many would say Jayalaalitha is the only man in hers. Because there is no evidence that she wants it any other way, it is safe to assume that she seems to like it that way, even if MLAs display abject sycophancy in the assembly. Unlike Karunanidhi who has rapped partymen publicly many times for heaping encomiums and comparing him to the great-poet saint Thiruvalluvar.
But it seems to be a quibble when you see it in perspective. Her popularity among the people is at a high. Even if she was the beneficiary of the people’s desire to vote out Karunanidhi and the DMK, with a few significant exceptions (read, the intelligentsia and of course DMK leaders and cadre) she has won over people with welfare schemes and largely because of her determination to go after DMK leaders and men whose apparent greed for land really made many people victims of their avarice and muscle-power. The latest arrest in a land grab case is of former minister K N Nehru.
The newspapers carried two full page advertisements on August 24 giving a rah rah account of her “good governance” and “her vision to turn TN into a model welfare state”. Even while her administration is rolling out the freebies — the ones already announced have been allocated Rs 8,900 crore in the budget for this year — and the real biggies (mixers and grinders to 1.83 crore families and laptops to Class XI and Class XII students) are slated for September 15, she seems a little defensive. “It is my desire that everyone gets everything and never wants for anything. At one point of time, people of Tamil Nadu will not have to depend on freebies and seek help from others. I will achieve that goal with your (alliance partners) support and the people.” Economists are likely to say that the route to make people independent of freebies is not to encourage them to depend on freebies, but the CM is very clear that she will not go back on the promises made in the manifesto. How serious she is can be gauged from the separate department she has set up, with a minister in charge, to monitor programme implementation.
Amma to all
When her government completed 100 days, CM Jayalalitha admitted that rather than celebrating, the milestone actually instilled fear in her “for the first time”. Quite an admission from someone often described as “bold”. To amend the words of the famous poet, she confessed that she had many promises to keep but was faced with a severe fund- crunch. She likened herself to a mother with ten children and only one dosa to feed them. “A good mother will share the dosa equally among 10 children though it would not satisfy all. But that is all that is available. I am in the position of such a mother. We intend to do so much for the people.”
For those who still have not heard what she has bee reiterating for the last three months, she said it once again. “The previous DMK government left the state with a huge debt burden. The Central government is also behaving indifferently and not releasing adequate funds to us.” But she adds with a sense of self-satisfaction, “It is going to be a challenge to outdo the achievements of the first 100 days at the end of our five-year term.”
One of her allies, DMDK’s Panruti Ramachandran, is generous saying the Jayalalitha government has begun on a “good” note. “The government has not levied any additional tax or increased the power or bus tariffs.”
But she has not won over her all her allies including the left on certain issues. For instance, CPM member A Soundararajan sought a detailed discussion before the law repealing the act — brought in by the DMK government in 2008 — to make the first day of the Thai month (coinciding with the Pongal festival) the beginning of the Tamil New Year was annulled. He even urged that the Bill undoing it be sent to the Select Committee. But since the Bill was carried by voice vote — and the AIADMK alone has 148 MLAs in the house of 234 — the Tamil New Year has reverted to April 14, the first day of the month of Chithirai.
While overturning Karunanidhi’s decision, CM Jayalalitha said, “I would like to place on record that it would only be proper to repeal the law. It hurt the sentiments of the people, violated traditions, and is of no use to anyone.” Karunanidhi’s argument was, “In 1921, Tamil scholar Maraimalai Adigal along with 500 scholars had decided that the first day of Thai month (January) should become the first day of the year.” But Jayalalitha’s riposte, even as she said that Tamil people celebrated new year in Chithirai and not Thai and that she had received several representations to back it, was, “Karunanidhi made the law for self publicity. The upshot is that Chithirai is the new year, but Karunanidhi is adamant, “For those who were born as Tamilians and for all those who proudly identified themselves with the Dravidian race, Thai shall be the New Year.”
Amidst the euphoria...
While she basked in the glory of all around praise in the assembly, Jayalalitha managed one more dig at the DMK. “The DMK heavily used money, apart from muscle power. Do you know how much money they pumped in for the elections? Rs 5,000 crore,” she told the Assembly.
Talking about the Election Commission’s decision to curb the DMK (and in particular Karunanidhi’s son M K Azhagiri whom she did not name but referred to as brave-heart sarcastically) by seizing Rs 50 crore, she said, “I came to know that some DMK men said they were not bothered by it as it was like little water spilling out of a pot full of water.”
We know she has attacked Azhagiri, Stalin, Kanimozhi and Karunanidhi innumerable times but she used the assembly platform to even target Selvi, the Bangalore-based daughter of Karunanidhi. Saying that there was large-scale interference in police work by Karunanidhi’s family, she said, “At least 365 members of the Karunanidhi family and many power centres interfered in police work. Even a housemaid of his daughter Selvi had the arrogance to slap a woman SI who was only doing her work.”
On two counts particularly, she has been lambasted. And both have to do with her urgency to overturn Karunanidhi’s decisions. One was on Samacheer Kalvi, the uniform syllabus system of education, that she has been forced to implement after her final appeal to the Supreme Court had judges ordering her government to back down. Now she says that her government supported Samacheer Kalvi. “The government only said that time was needed to implement the plan as it was in a half-baked state.” Her reasoning for the delay which would have caused Rs 200 crore worth of textbooks to go waste was that the “syllabus had many lacunae”. The dates of birth and death of leaders like Kamaraj and Lal Bahadur Shastri are wrong, she says. “If this is the standard of the books, how will the children learn?” she asked.
Apparently schoolchildren are not yet learning. Instead they are concealing “objectionable” parts — propaganda material that Karunanidhi introduced including a poem written by him — with blank paper. As per the verbal order of the education department, some pages in the Tamil, Science and Social Studies textbooks containing lessons on Karunanidhi have been asked to be covered. Said the mother of a student, “If two persons have political rivalry it should be kept to themselves and their parties. Why should children suffer because of them?”
Not all rah rah
Former deputy CM gloated after the DMK was vindicated on Samcheer Kalvi that the party was looking forward to the “second victory” now that Jayalalitha has taken another controversial decision to convert the Secretariat-Assembly complex into a multi-speciality hospital. The DMK, which is planning to move the court, hopes that the sage decision will be on its side just as in the case of Samacheer Kalvi. The announcement, he said, was also an attempt to mislead the commission of Inquriy (into the building of the complex, a favourite project of Karunanidhi) into thinking that she was the doing the right thing. “In fact, it is vendetta, and nothing else,” Stalin said.
The Karunanidhi scion was on a roll saying it was a “shame” that Jayalalitha had not appeared (she recently approached the Supreme Court seeking exemption from personal appearance) before the special court in Bangalore hearing the disproportionate wealth case against her “ on one pretext or the other 125 times despite reminders which is a world record of sorts.” Stalin went onto say, “Such a woman has no locus standi to point her finger at DMK functionaries, nor has the moral right to foist cases against our men.” But here people do not agree because they feel DMK men grabbed land and made them suffer.
And now a hospital...
Incidentally Stalin has echoed his father’s writings in the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli calling the decision as being a clear case of political vendetta and waste of public money. Karunaidhi’s first reaction was, “There is nothing wrong in converting the building into a hospital. I myself have donated my house (in Gopalapuram) for building a charitable hospital.” But soon enough he employed a politician’s standard excuse and said he had been misquoted. “If they can run a hospital there, why not a secretariat?” the former CM who has questioned the credentials of Justice (retd) S Thangaraj, heading the one-man commission constituted to probe alleged irregularities into the construction of the complex, asked. Apart from saying that Jayalalitha’s move to Fort St George would end up cramping everyone’s space, Karunanidhi reasoned, “Changing the complex into a hospital would cause more expenditure because things like an operation theatre should be planned in the design stage including electrical lines, etc.”
But when you have Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha there is never a dull moment!