Tuesday, Sep 28, 2021

Chennai Corner

Amma's missive seeking the PM’s intervention in getting the Sukma collector released from the Naxals is very heart-warming, coming as it does from the CM of a state in which Malayalee was a bad word as recently as last December

Chennai Corner
Chennai Corner

Dog Eat Dog

With 150 seats in her bag and a brute majority to boot, one would think CM Jayalalitha will show some generosity to her erstwhile ally. The CPI, which teamed up with the AIADMK for last year’s assembly poll and won the Pudukkotai seat, should have recognized that in electoral politics, it’s a dog eat dog world. Proof is Jayalalitha’s announcement this week that V. R. Karthik Thandaiman will be her party’s candidate for the bypoll.

Karthik is the son of Rajakumar Vijayaragunatha Thondaiman, who was elected to the Assembly from the constituency in 1967, 1977 and 1980 on a Congress ticket. A CPI leader reacted to the announcement saying, “We have only two options— either support the AIADMK or stay away from the elections.” A state executive council meet this week will take a final call.

The CPI should have read the writing on the wall. A couple of weeks ago in the assembly, Jayalalitha had announced a Rs 50-crore special development package for Pudukottai Municipality, to mark of its 100th anniversary. This week, food minister, R. Kamaraj, said that the government would spend Rs 21.69 crores on a pilot project to give biometric smart cards in Pudukottai district as there was no foolproof system to check bogus ration cards. So, she has advertised her intent to appropriate the seat for the party. Now that the code of conduct has come in, any more largesse to Pudukottai cannot be official.

It’s very likely that CPI MLA SP Muthukumaran, who died tragically in a road accident early this month, will be replaced by the AIADMK, despite the sympathy for the first time MLA. In Sankarankoil bypoll, amma already demonstrated that you can’t match her resources, fair or foul. Her candidate Muthuselvi won and the rest including the DMK lost their deposits.

Costs of War

Speaking of the left, the CPM MP, T.K. Rangarajan, who returned last week after touring parts of Sri Lanka as part of the Indian Parliamentary delegation to that country said the Tamils from the North and the East were moving towards “normalcy”. He said Tamil leaders don’t want a separate Eelam contrary to DMK president M. Karunanidhi’s demand for United Nations intervention and a referendum for the formation of Tamil Eelam on the lines of East Timor, Kosovo and Montenegro.

“At the citizens meeting at Jaffna and also in a session with Sri Lankan MPs, TNA leader Sampanthan stressed that a political solution be found within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and never talked about Eelam,” the CPM MP said. He also quoted Sampanathan as saying, “I am a Sri Lankan and want to die as a Sri Lankan.”

Even if it was an organized tour, the MPs got a sense of the problems Tamils are facing. Rangarajan said, “One issue that moved all of us was the plight of 45,000 Tamil widows. In Batticaloa alone, there are 23,000 widows, 13,000 of whom are under the age of 23. I could not control my emotions when I talked to them.” When the Indian delegation took up the issue with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he turned around and said there were 30,000 widows of Sri Lankan soldiers who were killed in the war. That is the collateral damage making the costs of war tragic.

Boycott Farce

All this would have been worth learning about if TN parties starting with the AIADMK had not boycotted the trip to the island. Considering they whip up emotions about Tamils in Sri Lanka at election time and to score political points, the least they could have done is to be open to the visit. But apparently, their heart only bleeds for Sri Lankan Tamils while sitting here and issuing thunderous statements not if they have to experience on the ground interactions.

That is why CPI (M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan said that instead of keeping away from the delegation, the DMK, an ally of the Congress-led UPA at the Centre, and the AIADMK should have been part of it. “Representatives of the CPI and the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi too should have been included in the team,” he said.

Weeks after getting the centre to change its foreign policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka (India voted against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council on March 23 at Geneva), on the grounds that a genocide of Tamils was committed, parties in TN have played politics on the issue once again. First Jayalalitha withdrew her MP from the all-party delegation led by Sushma Swaraj (that visited SL between April 16- 21) calling it a “farce” and that she did not wish to be a party to a “feast” with SL top brass when the itinerary did not mention an interaction with Tamils. She has not said a word even if reports have emerged that the delegation did meet Tamils.

Vaiko, although his party was not part of the delegation, called it a farce too. PMK’s Ramadoss, no friend of Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi on many issues, supported the CM. Again he has no MP to send but he, like Vaiko, makes a noise about SL Tamils all the time.

Karunanidhi, who is at odds with the CM on every other issue, agreed with her on this and withdrew his MP too. Actually he had no choice in the competitive politics played by parties on the Tamil issue. He chose to put it this way while withdrawing T. K. S. Elangovan from the delegation. “There are examples in the past that tell us that such delegations would not serve any useful purpose.” So, was he rubbishing the outcome of the MP visit that he swung after LTTE chief Prabhakaran was killed in May 2009 by Sri Lankan defence forces?

Mostly DMK MPs including Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi were sent to SL by him then. Jayalalitha, then opposition leader, had accused Karunanidhi of letting his MPs “be wined, dined and to accept gifts” from the SL government instead of bringing succour to the Tamils. Have they taken the easy way out now and Tamils are forgotten in this debate?

And they don’t count, really!

Finally Five

Finally only five MPs from TN went (4 Congress and 1 CPM). Congress MPs E. M. Sudarshana Natchiappan, Manicka Tagore, M. Krishnaswamy and N. S. V. Chithan came back and said they had urged Rajapakse to resettle the displaced Tamils and expedite the implementation of the 13th amendment and recommendations of the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) report. But on the war crimes that agitates the other political parties here, there was not a word. With the Congress at the centre supporting SL as a policy, their hands were tied, of course.

When asked about DMK and AIADMK boycotting the trip, Natchiappan said, “They have certain aims and goals. In a democracy, we cannot expect everybody to be uniform. They have their goals and we have ours.”

While there is the argument that India sent the delegation only to mollify SL after voting against it, TN MPs let go an opportunity to focus on Tamils in SL just to score political points. The fact that DMK joined AIADMK in pulling out means they were trying to appease pro-Tamils here.

Junket Justice

Unless there’s politics involved, most MPs would not pass up a junket. And in that spirit hear it from state president of the Indian Union Muslim League K.M. Kader Mohideen. He was upset that no Muslim MP was part of the delegation. According to him, only a Muslim MP could have done “justice” to Tamil Muslims in Sri Lanka who are about 45,000.

Amma Intervenes

Amidst the barrage of letters Jayalalitha shoots off to the PM doing battle with the centre, there was one this week that was different. Her missive was seeking the PM’s intervention in getting Sukma collector, Alex Paul Menon, who has been kidnapped by naxals, released. “It is very unfortunate that the officer was abducted while discharging official duties,” she said adding that Alex’s family had met her and appealed to her to use her good offices for his release. All political parties have supported the family which held a rally at Marina that included father, Varadhas and father-in-law Venugopal, and carried banners that read “Free Alex” and “Bring Home Alex”.

It’s very heart-warming to see this support in a state in which, in December last year, Malayalee was a bad word. Keralites and their businesses were targeted, and people including Ayyappa devotees had suffered as politicians from TN and Kerala upped the ante over the Mullaperiyar dam. Like the thousands of Malayalees who have made Chennai their home, Alex Paul’s pregnant wife, Asha, too is a Chennaiite. “I want people to know that we are fighting for the life of an officer who is dedicated to improving the lot of the people,” says Asha pointing out that because of her husband, the PDS improved in Bijapur, Dhamtari got its first MBBS doctor and the midday meal scheme in schools.

Alex Paul grew up in Tirunelveli district in southern TN where his 69-year-old father, Varadhas, still lives, and is looked after by Shanthi, one of the collector’s cousins at Ramnagar. Alex John’s mother was a native of Mahiladi, a nearby village. People from both these villages petitioned Tirunelveli collector Selvaraj. A special prayer was organized at Rose Mary matriculation higher secondary school, where the kidnapped collector studied, seeking divine intervention for Alex Paul’s release. At Dindigul, staff and students of the Ratna Vel Subramaniam(RVS) College of Engineering prayed for their alumnus. Alex Paul gradudated in BE Electronics and Communications here in 2002.

It Never Ends

April 13 was celebrated as Tamil New Year’s Day this year, after CM Jayalalitha reversed former CM M Karunanidhi’s diktat that New Year should be celebrated on the first day of Thai (January 14) not Chithirai (April 14). This year it fell on April 13, because it is a leap year. New Year has come and gone but Amma and Kalaignar are not done squabbling.

Jayalalitha accused Karunanidhi of changing the date so that Chennai Sanghamam— that was organized by daughter Kanimozhi and held with pomp and show for five years from 2007— held during Pongal (January 14) would get publicity with the New Year as the excuse. She disputes Karunanidhi’s statement that his announcement came in the governor’s address in 2008 stating that it was at Chennai Sanghamam “he came out with the theory that 500 Tamil scholars had favoured the idea of celebrating Tamil New Year on Thai. Probably, he thought that this announcement will ensure recognition for Chennai Sangamam,” she said accusing him of “unilaterally” changing the law, “although people’s faith cannot be changed through laws.”

Writing in the DMK mouthpiece, Murasoli, Karunanidhi replies, “One should understand that I did enough research before making the change in 2008 even as Tamil scholars and poets had already arrived at the same decision independently.” It was “political vendetta” that made Jayalalitha revert to the old date, he says. “Can we ask who is being benefited by the change now?” he asks. Nobody is but they are both making a huge noise over it.


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