October 30, 2020
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Unlike the UPA government which has been talking about a reshuffle for weeks but is nowhere near doing it, CM Jayalalitha is like Cassius Clay— she moves like a butterfly and stings like a bee.

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Chennai Corner

Revolving Door

Unlike the UPA government which has been talking about a reshuffle for weeks but is nowhere near doing it, CM Jayalalitha is like Cassius Clay—she moves like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Her ministers were understandably nervous after a loyalist like Speaker D. Jayakumar abruptly put in his papers last Saturday. Apparently they were right to be anxious because one more loyalist—Commercial Taxes minister minister C. Ve Shanmugam—has been asked to hit the road in the eighth reshuffle of Jayalalitha’s cabinet (in less than 18 months since she took office last May) this week. In July, K.A. Sengottaiyan, a staunch loyalist, who was a minister since she became CM for the first time in 1991, was dropped as revenue minister. “The CM is keen on improving the performance in her cabinet. She works hard and expects her colleagues to match up,” says a senior AIADMK leader.

The fact that Shanmugham’s inglorious exit was greeted with the bursting of firecrackers in his native Tindivanam means no tears are being shed for his ouster. There were rumours that he did not “oblige” senior party colleagues who approached him for help. And like in the cases of Jayakumar and Sengottiyan, his exit too is one in a series of district-level functionaries being purged from the party. Jayalalitha has also sacked several functionaries in other districts apart from conducting a minor reshuffle in the portfolios.

One theory is that Jayalalitha is getting the party ready for the Lok Sabha poll where she has made it clear that the AIADMK should make her a winner in all the 39 seats, so she can be a big player on the national stage. That also explains why the state got its first Dalit speaker (Dalits form about 20 per cent of the state’s population) this week when she nominated deputy Speaker K.P. Dhanapalan to fill the vacancy caused by Jayakumar’s exit.

The Son's Son

Even as his grandfather M Karunanidhi has demanded a CBI inquiry into the Rs 16,338 crore granite scam, Dayanidhi Azhagiri, son of union minister M.K. Azhagiri, has moved the Madurai bench of the Madras high court with a plea that the FIR registered against him (by the Keezhavalavu police) be quashed. His plea said that the FIR (which charged him as director of Olympus Granites, of illegally quarrying granite from mines belonging to the state-owned Tamil Nadu Minerals Limited (TAMIN) ) had a malafide intention to “wreak political vendetta and tarnish [his] family’s image”. His claim has always been that he resigned as director of the company on April 1, 2010, a contention that has been contradicted by state’s counsel in the court saying there was no proof of that. This is the second time Dayanidhi has approached the court, the first being his plea for anticipatory bail that was dismissed recently by the high court. As a matter of record, Chennai Corner had questioned how Dayanidhi had come up with the funds to set up the production house, Cloud Nine Movies, in 2008 in an earlier column. However, Dayandihi (whose birthday went by on September 27) who is barely 25 did rake in the moolah after many of the films made by Cloud Nine Movies were successful. Incidentally, his wife, Anusha, a law graduate, set up an event management company Nefertiti (after the iconic Egyptian queen) this April. 

Eluding The Cops

One would think with Jayalalitha in charge of the government and her famed challenge to Azhagiri —whom she called a “rowdy” at a public meeting in Madurai in 2010 —not to mention her single-minded attack on the Karunanidhi clan, the police would leave no stone unturned to catch Dayanidhi. But this is what senior a police officer says in defence of the fact that Dayanidhi is still untraceable: “We have some difficulties in arresting the accused as they are big sharks and also have connection with powerful politicians. Taking into account that Durai Dayanidhi is the son of a union minister, police could not move into the minister’s houses in Delhi, Madurai and other places.”

In the run-up to the assembly elections, Jayalalitha had been very vocal about illegal quarrying that was causing revenue loss to the government and that if she were in power she would institute a probe. But nothing happened till the leak of the letter. And now Karunanidhi has demanded that the CBI should also go into the illegal quarrying in her earlier regimes. So, therein lies her reason for soft pedalling the issue.

But it is also a measure of Dayanidhi's clout that since August 7, when the FIR was filed—the case includes eight others and S. Nagarajan, his business partner—he has made himself scarce. After his anticipatory bail was dismissed, police, which claims it has constituted 10 teams to find him, have apparently made renewed efforts to find him (they have even searched a farm house in Kodaikanal) quizzing his friend and partner in Cloud Nine movies, Vivek Rathanavel, his father-in-law Seetharaman (who is an advocate), and brother-in-law Venkatesh (sister Kayalvizhi’s husband), friend Deepak among others. The police even went to the house of his father’s aide Pottu Suresh alias Suresh Babu because they suspect he could have colluded with Dayanidhi. But of course did not find him there either.

Already arrested in the case is Shanmugavel, the deputy director of mines department . On September 15, Vigilance and Anti-Corruption officials also booked two IAS officers—both former Madurai collectors N. Mathivanan and C. Kamaraj—for alleged corruption in the case and conducted raids across 34 places in the state. Olympus Granites’ accounts have already been frozen.

Harassing the Whistleblower

The whistleblower in the case, former collector U. Sagayam—who has been transferred 19 times in about 20 years because he has always been a thorn in the flesh of the powers that be—has received a notice from the Madras high court on September 25, after a petition was moved against him accusing him of issuing invalid pattas. Sources say that dirty work is afoot because it was Sagayam who filed a report that Dayanidhi Azhagiri was among those involved in the plunder of Madurai district’s agricultural lands, water bodies, and even hillocks for granite.  He wrote to the principal secretary of the state industries department on May 19. Sources say that four days later, he was transferred and posted as special officer and managing director of the Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society, a boondocks posting. The letter was leaked on August 1.  Now, in a PIL, K.K. Ramesh of Madurai, has claimed that he had petitioned Sagayam, when he was collector, that he should distribute government land at Nilayur First pit to BPL families. Ramesh says that when the collector did not act, he petitioned the court which ordered that he comply. But since Sagayam still did not act, according to Ramesh, the latter moved a contempt petition after which the collector reportedly gave away pattas to 17 persons. However, when the beneficiaries went to take charge of the land, they found it was already occupied and so Ramesh has filed a PIL demanding action against Sagayam for giving away invalid pattas. 

Going, Going, Gone

Two years is a long time for the youth Congress in Tamil Nadu. It’s the difference of 11 lakhs (less, not more) in the cadre strength (after Rahul Gandhi came on four visits and energized the party in 2010, the cadre grew) and also from a high voltage office bearer election that he oversaw to the low key one witnessed last week where his name virtually did not come up. “From 14 lakhs, the membership has officially reduced to just 3 lakhs. It will fall further the next time if the high command continues to neglect cadres and runs the Youth Congress (YC) by taking advice from a handful of tech savvy people in New Delhi,” rues a state YC functionary morosely. Rahul Gandhi was supposed to bring the Congress out of a coma in this state and he was hoping that building the YC was the first step to that. But instead the Congress seems to be worse off. Although M. Yuvraja was elected for a second term as the YC president, the run up to the election was fraught with internecine battles. When the election results were announced last Friday at Satyamurthy Bhavan, the Congress headquarters, the groups led by union minister G.K. Vasan and the one led by Karti Chidambaram, son of the union finance minister, claimed they had prevailed over the other group. Both camps declared they have emerged stronger with P. Chidambarama’s loyalists saying Vasan’s supporters won only 15 of 39 parliamentary level posts. But according to Yuvaraja, a Vasan groupie, they had secured 22 Parliament level seats. At the assembly level, a PC loyalist claimed victory in 85 seats while Yuvaraja says they won in 150 assembly seats. One of the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm in the youth cadre is cited by a senior TNCC leader: “What did the party do to those parliamentary and assembly level YC functionaries elected last time? How long does the high command expect them to just face polls? At least they should have been accommodated in some committee.”

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