June 18, 2021
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As they say “izzat ka sawal hai” for CM Jayalalitha after DMDK leader Viajayakant reminded her of something she would like to forget: That her candidate had lost his deposit in the by-election to Pennagaram held in March 2010...

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Chennai Corner

Jayalalitha Wins, Vijayakant Loses

As they say “izzat ka sawal hai” for CM Jayalalitha after DMDK leader Viajayakant reminded her of something (last week on the floor of the assembly) she would like to forget. Her candidate had lost his deposit in the by-election to Pennagaram held in March 2010. Now, after Vijayakant clashed fiercely with her in the assembly leading to her calling him “disgusting” and “crude” and calling off an alliance she was “ashamed” of, he must be humbled and even humiliated. Humbled, by making his candidate lose his or her deposit in the impending bypoll to Shankarankoil (Tirunelveli district) and humiliated by luring over 1,000 of his party’s cadre— is that what she meant when she predicted his “downslide” during her attack?— including estranged close friend and business partner Ibrahmim Rowther, who produced many films of Vijayakant including Captain Prabhakaran which gave him box-office glory, fame and even the moniker he is popularly known by. Other key DMDK functionaries that she welcomed into the AIADMK were the party’s election wing secretary K.Jagaveerapandiyan, medical wing secretary Pari and K.Velmurugan, who contested and lost his deposit in the mayoral election for Chennai. Vijayakant has already been suspended by the Speaker for 10 days, which means he can’t even come for a few days in the next session of the assembly. Last week’s session adjourned sine die last Saturday. He made it a point to return the car that the government earmarked for him as opposition leader.

The Battle of Prestige

Jayalalitha’s candidate in Shankarankoil, S Muthuselvi, might face the united opposition candidate with former CM, M. Karunanidhi, making sympathetic noises about Vijayakant’s suspension. He called Vijaykant’s suspension “undemocratic”. “Things which are anti-democratic and tend to demolish democracy are happening in the AIADMK rule. The repressive action and atrocities against Vijayakant are an example to it,” he said.

Even CPM state president G Ramakrishnan said, “The way the AIADMK government handled the discussions over the motion of thanks to the Governor’s address has worried those concerned about democracy.” But nothing has been decided yet considering the Election Commission has not yet scheduled the bypoll in Shankarankoil, which this week saw communal disturbances.

After the DMK’s general council meet last week, when son Stalin’s impatience to be made Karunanidhi’s political heir as well as elder son Azhagiri’s disapproval over it came through vehemently, the former CM’s seeming olive branch to Vijayakant, who had called him the “evil force” for many months leading to last year’s assembly elections, is curious.

Karunanidhi has many problems on the home front itself because Shankarankoil falls in south TN which is controlled by Azhagiri. In fact, at the meeting of the Tirunelveli district of the party, which came a day after Stalin’s supporters created a ruckus at the general council meeting, the “thalapathi” did not show up. And the day before, Azhagiri walked out in a huff when Stalin’s supporters got vocal.

But DMK partymen are giving the spin that a common opposition candidate will be announced. They interpret Karunanidhi’s remark that, “We are ready to consider joining hands with any party that promises national development, secularism and upliftment of workers and poorer sections, if they approached us” to mean that. But it seems unlikely that after his battle royale with Jayalalitha in the assembly, Vijayakant will not put up a DMDK candidate.

Jayalalitha has already constituted a 34 member panel including 26 ministers to oversee the bypoll. With a prestigious battle looming, Jayalalitha is pulling out all the stops to see that her candidate not only romps home but gets a stupendous victory.

Good From Bad

One of the good things that has emerged from the fire that destroyed Kalas Mahal (called as Chepauk Palace) last month is that in Fort St George (founded in 1644 and from where the current administration rules), more than 100 pictorial signboards have come up to warn people that this heritage structure is fragile in many places. Some of the signboards have come up at the nearby Namakkal Kavignar Maligai, where many government departments are located. The signboards include warnings such as “use staircase in case of emergency.” The fire department has also conducted fire safety programmes for employees at the Secretariat.

Of course the heritage structure could have been better preserved if CM Jayalalitha was not adamant about ruling from the “kottai” and instead continued from the monstrous Assembly-Secretariat complex that Karunanidhi built and ruled from over the last year. Chandralekha, a retired IAS officer, says that Fort St George was too small to house departments and as a result government departments are scattered all over the city including Saidapet. As a result when “review” meetings are held (which are all the time), the staff has to go to Fort St George where the respective minister is and that means time and money wasted whereas the new complex is huge enough to accommodate most departments and has the Rajaji hall, the MLAs hostel, etc nearby.

But when the CM, who is always described as bright with a quick grasp of things chooses to ignore logic— and the sheer inconvenience to people— to satisfy her ego, what does one say? Incidentally even her idea to convert the assembly-secretariat complex into a super- speciality hospital has earned her no brownie points and has been panned as an unviable notion. Even the Madras high court told her to keep “hands off” the structure till the PIL, praying that the new complex built with tax payers’s money amounting to about Rs 1200 crores, is decided.

Incidentally, the complex that sprawls over 9.3 lakh square foot owes the Chennai corporation multiple lakhs in property tax arrears. The structure, which has a ground plus six floors was touted as the building which would attract the highest property tax. The corporation’s revenue department had fixed Rs 85.02 lakhs as the property tax for half a year.

Build it, They Will Come

Here’s the difference between how politicians treat memorials to leaders who are vote catchers and heritage buildings. They give Rs 8.90 crore to memorials as CM Jayalalitha did two weeks ago and are ready to tear heritage buildings down after they have been ravaged by a fire that mysteriously started. The memorials of both CN Annadurai, who died in February 1969, and M G Ramachandran, who passed away in December 1987, which have been constructed on the Marina, were earmarked for renovation, the government had told the assembly last August. When the CM sanctioned the crores recently, it was a follow-up to that. While Anna’s memorial will sport a new look after the renovation costing Rs 1.20 crore, the memorial for the AIADMK founder, MGR, will have a new front façade in addition to the renovation and it will cost the tax payer Rs 4.30 crore. Incidentally, while there is a clamour from lovers of heritage and even the courts have to direct the state to preserve old buildings, actions to honour vote catchers are always taken suo moto by politicians.

Up in Flames

Heritage buildings are in the news after a part of Kalas Mahal (part of the sprawling complex known as Chepauk Palace) , a 245-year-old palace built by the Muhammad Ali Wallajah, was burnt to cinders in a fire last month. That the building, which housed many government offices, was badly in need of repair was no secret. In 2005, a government employee dodged a ceiling fan when it came crashing down with a part of the roof. “It was a disaster waiting to happen as the PWD never maintained buildings in the palace.” And disaster did happen during the Pongal holiday when not only was the palace destroyed in the fire, a fireman K Anbalagan was also killed and two others injured. But K V Ramalingam, the PWD Minister, said, “There has been no lack of maintenance. The Chepauk Palace had fire safety equipment but since the accident happened at night, they were not put to use.” Several thousands of files on welfare schemes were destroyed in the fire. According to the city’s eminent historian S Muthiah, the historical importance of the complex came from the fact that it showed how Indo-Sarcenic style of architecture evolved. “The culmination of this style is the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan. So the government should be looking at restoring it and not pulling it down,” he says.

Real Estate Bonanza

The first reaction from the government came from Ramalingam— “The building is damaged 100 per cent and renovation cannot take place.” In fact government sources said that the building would be demolished and a new one built in its place. But outrage from conservationists and the Prince of Arcot, Nawab Mohammed Ali, who pointed out that if the Senate House, which was built in 1857, could be renovated, then this building should be restored since it was older. “The Chepauk Palace should be restored to its original glory,” he said. And now a three-member committee set up by the CM to assess the building’s stability has recommended restoration. One would think lovers of heritage will see this as victory. But the feeling is that the committee was mere eyewash to keep them quiet. Conservationists questioned whether the committee did a thorough job. As S Suresh, convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), put it, “The team had less than a week and I wonder whether they would have fully assessed the damage.” Besides, there was disquiet over whether committee members had the necessary qualifications for the job.

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