Blame the EC
The Election Commission seems to have become a convenient scapegoat for DMK chief Karunanidhi’s surprise decision to boycott the June 12 assembly bypoll in Pudkottai. With the CPI, whose MLA P Muthukumaran died necessitating the bycoll, also announcing a boycott after CM Jayalalitha announced that her party candidate, V. R. Karthik Thondaman, would be contesting, the DMK cadre was hopeful that the party would be able to put up a fight. After all, its candidate lost only by 3,000 odd votes in the assembly election when the CPI had aligned with the AIADMK.
But Karunanidhi claims that the EC announced the bypoll after consulting with the AIADMK. It is true that Jayalalitha announced her candidate a few hours before the EC notification. Karunanidhi, making the boycott announcement, said: “Two days before the date was announced, the state government allocated Rs. 50 crore exclusively for Pudukottai Municipality. In this background, opposition parties will not get any justice from the Election Commission and the DMK has decided to boycott the election.”
Actually, Jayalalitha did announce a Rs 50 crore special development package for Pudukottai municipality but about a month ago. Perhaps Karunanidhi does not want to risk the DMK losing face by its candidate losing his deposit as happened in the Sankarankoil bypoll in March!
For all her vision to make the state one of the three top destinations in Asia by 2023, CM Jayalalitha does not appear to look beyond an ego massage from her MLAs and ministers. In fact, it would seem her vision does not extend beyond being seen as a deity who has to be propitiated regularly. Listening to AIADMK members in the ongoing budget assembly convinces one that more preparation and homework goes into eulogizing amma than in serving the people who elected them.
Here’s a sample from Velachery MLA M K Ashok: The hearts of the people of Tamil Nadu earlier beat to the chorus ‘lub dub, lub dub”, after Amma came to power, it beats the refrain “laptop, laptop”. For the uninitiated, it’s a reference to Jayalalitha’s free laptop scheme for students.
This MLA has certainly missed his calling as a copywriter. Or at the very least a successful lyricist in Kollywood!
Will Captain Bite the Bullet?
Even when they were taunting DMDK MLAs for their chief, ‘Captain’ Vijayakant’s no show, days after his ten-day suspension ran out, it was clear that AIADMK MLAs were only interested in notching up brownie points from Jayalalitha when they buttonholed DMDK MLAs this week over Vijayakant’s continued absence.
AIADMK MLA R. Manohar said, “Mr Vijayakanth seems not to repose faith in the Assembly to which the electorate sent him. Instead, he prefers to receive petitions from the public in the constituency of his party members as he does not trust his legislators.” Manohar advised that instead of being in the “scorching sun”, Vijayakant should debate people’s issues in the house. That led to an uproar that only got worse when housing minister R. Vaithilingam, taunted, “Will Mr Vijayakanth attend the Assembly or return to his film shoot?” His MLA replied tersely, employing the staple phrase of all politicians: “He will come at an appropriate time.” Naturally amma was amused that Vijayakant was coming off looking bad.
With the DMK boycotting the Pudukottai bypoll, nothing will give her more pleasure to crush Vijayakant if he gets egged into fielding his party’s candidate there. She’s deputed 52, including all of her 32 ministers, so she can thump her chest and say when her party enters the fray in bypolls that all other parties are reduced to ciphers. Vijayakant’s partymen in Pudukottai are enthusiastic about contesting and dream of taking the DMDK’s tally in the assembly to 30. It remains to be seen – with May 18, which is the last day for filing nominations, being a long way off – whether Vijayakant will have the stomach for a fight, because already his staying away from the assembly has made him seem as the one running away.
Walk of Life
For all those who know and have experienced that Chennai city is not a safe city for pedestrians, comes proof that it is nothing short of dangerous. According to the results of a comparative study on ‘Walkability in Indian Cities’, Chennai has a long way to go, and certainly not by walking because you may not live to tell the tale. The study conducted by the Delhi-based Clean Air Initiative (CAI) gives Chennai 40 out of 100, behind all other cities surveyed, including Indore (42), Surat (43), Bangalore (45), Bhubaneswar (50) and Pune (54).
“We asked pedestrians how they feel about motorists on the road. Do they slow down and signal people to move? We found that motorists in Chennai drive around literally in desperation and in a tearing hurry,” said Parthaa Bosu from CAI. Well this is the city where a speeding motorist fell off a flyover a couple of years ago. Recently, I admonished an auto-rickshaw driver for going in the wrong direction on a one-way road and he was insolent: “Neenga traffic constablea?”(Are you a traffic constable?). Little wonder, Chennai scored just 45 out of 100 for motorist behaviour. In fact, it scored the lowest or second lowest on six parameters, including disability infrastructure, motorist behaviour, grade crossing safety and walkability.
Last year, according to traffic police records, nearly 500 pedestrians died on the city’s roads. If there are footpaths, they have disappeared because of encroachers, or obstacles like junction boxes, parked vehicles, overflowing garbage bins, shops, signboards and wires. There are house owners who grow gardens and enclose the pavements outside their houses or buildings. Chennai Corporation is not bothered about its people because starting with the mayor, the AIADMK-dominated body is busy trying to please amma.
Another example of the corporation’s laissez faire attitude came in the form of the death of a four-year-old boy, 18 days after he was bitten by a rabid dog. The corporation either goes overboard – it killed 100 dogs in one day this week causing a furore not only among animal activists but also among citizens – or does nothing (25 deaths due to rabies have been registered last year, and four so far this year).
An official pointed out that after vaccination (40,000 dogs are vaccinated every year, officials claim) and sterilization, international guidelines say the dogs should be put back in their territory. He helplessly admitted, “But then residents protest. The civic body is at a loss about what to do.”
That is obvious because if you walk into Ripon Buildings, a heritage building from which the corporation functions), packs of stray dogs are all over the place. This is a sanctuary for them away from dog catchers, members of the public who pelt them with stones or even NGOs to whom sterilization has been outsourced by the civic body. Talk of challenging city fathers or their turf!