Saturday, Sep 18, 2021

Chennai Corner

Mayawati spattered the Uttar Pradesh landscape with stone elephants, CM Jayalalitha’s stamp on Chennai will be arches and even Grecian statues.

Chennai Corner
Chennai Corner

Arches & Grecian Statues

Mayawati spattered the Uttar Pradesh landscape with stone elephants, CM Jayalalitha’s stamp on Chennai will be arches and even Grecian statues.  This week, she was out inspecting a site between Fort St George and the War Memorial to construct an arch to commemorate the diamond jubilee celebration of the state assembly which was constituted in 1952. 

Incidentally, Speaker, K. P. Dhanapalan, announced after being sworn in, that the diamond jubilee celebration which was supposed to be on October 29 will now be held on November 30. The postponement is so that the arch will be ready and also because the CM would like President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee to be present. 

“It will be a majestic structure, befitting the beauty of the historic Fort St. George. The structure will continue to remind people of the historical occasion,” the CM, who will lay the foundation stone for it on October 29, said. The arch will be 40 feet in height and 80 feet in width and will encompass traditional and modern architecture. There is no news of how much this is going to cost.

But we know how costly the restoration of the Anna arch, the entrance to Annanagar which was built in 1985,  is— Rs one crore plus. Initially the plan was to demolish it— at a cost of Rs 8 lakh— to make way for the Rs 117 crore flyover-subway project that was planned to ease traffic congestion. After three days of electric saws and diamond cutters early last month, the arch refused to tumble down leading to Jayalalitha intervening to stop the demolition and ordering that the flyover-subway plan be changed so that the arch could be saved.

So, the arch stood precariously held up by a crane that was hired at a reported cost of Rs 4 lakh every day! Do the math— Rs 4 lakh for almost a month and that includes the time it will still hold it up during the restoration. So when will the flyover, that was planned to ease traffic snarls, come up? At least six more months for the altered plan and then the time taken for construction. So brace for more chaos on a road that was better off before the saga of the demolition that never was.

MGR Memorial Makeover

Then there is the MGR Memorial at Marina beach which is going to lose the arch and get two giant concrete leaves, the symbol of the party he founded in 1972. Earlier the entry arch was in the shape of folded hands. But what is going to be new is a 12-foot bronze sculpture of a winged-horse (Pegasus) on a 4.5 metre high pedestal. A sculptor from Mamallapuram is going to get the horse ready by October, while the two-leaves will be ready soon afterwards. Thus MGR gets a makeover of his memorial at a cost of Rs 3.4 crores in time for his death anniversary on December 24.

Jayalalitha V/s Vijayakant

DMDK chief Vijayakant knows that right now— with 29 MLAs and him being opposition leader— is as good as it is going to get for his party unless he has an alliance. Amidst rumours that he and the Congress are talking to forge an alliance for the 2014 general elections and that even talks between the DMDK and DMK are going on, Vijayakant has said, “DMDK is ready to consider forming an alliance with a party that would give assurances through written statement regarding upholding the interests of Tamil Nadu, in all respects.”

Speaking in his constituency, Rishivandhyam, this week, Vijayakant claimed he was prepared to contest on his own— a message to potential allies. He tried it once and he is still bitter— “I regret aligning with the AIADMK for the 2011 assembly elections,” he says. He cannot get past being suspended in the assembly in February this year following a slanging match between him and CM Jayalalitha on who had helped whom to win. The combine including the left had won 196 of the 234 seats.

It appears no less difficult for Jayalalitha to forget the “audacity” of Vijayakant in challenging her on the floor of the house. She keeps taking cracks at him frequently. The latest was when she visited her constituency, Srirangam, last month. She had her audience agog when she narrated a story about the friendship between a big businessman and a small merchant that turned sour. The merchant decided to go to court against his erstwhile friend and approached an advocate.  But the latter turned down the merchant’s brief only to relent reluctantly after the latter’s entreaties.  And thanks to the advocate, the merchant got a verdict in his favour. In other words, Amma was reluctant to tie-up with Vijayakant’s DMDK and gave in because he kept on begging. The result was his party won (29 MLAs) with her party’s support.

Sartorial Change

The publicity that DMK chief M Karunanidhi got for wearing a black shirt last week must be making Amma kick herself.  Karunanidhi said his original plan was to wear a black shirt while participating in the human chain planned by the DMK to highlight the failure of the AIADMK government on all fronts on October 5, but since the state government denied permission for the protest, he has decided to wear black shirt permanently to express his opposition to the present regime. Amma must be kicking herself. If only her government had given DMK permission to protest, they would have been roundly cursed by the people for causing traffic jams all over the city, already a nightmare because of the metro construction. Her refusal led to Karunanidhi, swapping his crisp white shirt (his close companion for the last over half a century) for a black shirt that became a huge talking point. 

Not only that, the happy surprise among citizens last week when they found people like former deputy CM Stalin, actor Khushbu jumping into their buses to distribute pamphlets listing out Jayalalitha’s  “misrule”, for the first time created a positive buzz for his party.

Wearing a black shirt brought many happy memories for the octogenarian. In 1945, Karunanidhi was the first to register for the ‘black shirt movement’ launched by Periyar. Then as part of the Dravida Kazhagam, the precursor to the two existing big Dravidian parties, Karunanidhi was often in a black shirt. Then in 1949, C N Annadurai broke away from the DK to form DMK (the same differences that Arvind Kejriwal had with Anna Hazare, participating in the electoral process, caused the rift) and Karunanidhi followed him and embraced the white shirt and abandoned the black shirt.

It’s another matter that Karunanidhi was back in his white shirt after advertising that he was going to wear the black shirt permanently because it reflected the black situation in the state because of “misrule”, he said.

Green with Envy

Was it just a coincidence that CM Jayalalitha sported a green sari when the new Speaker, K P Dhanapalan was sworn in this week? Or was she part of the green brigade that her party has suddenly morphed into to beat the successful black shirt campaign launched by the DMK?

It was not very original, in fact it was downright me-too when AIADMK cadre turned out this week in green. Even their action of distributing pamphlets— praising Jayalalitha’s “achievements”— by going from door to door was copied unfortunately.  The only smart thing they did was fan out in Gopalapuram area of Chennai where Karunanidhi lives and handed out pamphlets. Even in other districts of the state and in neighbouring Puducherry, the AIADMK carried out its counter campaign by its green brigade.

The happiest in the sartorial competition has been the garment industry in Tirupur, which has taken a beating in the recession, because it suddenly had orders first for black shirts (and even black sarees sported by Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi) and later green shirts and sarees.

 “We have bought 250 shirts from Chennai and have asked the office bearers of the union and branches to buy five to 10 shirts each. Some cadres even bought black shirt materials and gave it to tailors,” said former MLA Saba Rajendran of Panruti. Bulk orders were placed in units in Tirupur, Erode and Aathur too.

Not Just in the Air 

There is much debate on air-safety and whether Kingfisher, currently on a partial lock-out, is safe to be allowed to soar again. But on September 26, a KF flight was hit by a tractor in Chennai airport and therefore grounded. This week, an Air-India flight to Jeddah was grounded after the tow-bar of a trolley pierced it near the engine.  The plane was being towed when it hit a the trolley attached to a tractor. On August 20, the arm lift was hit by a tractor and on August 6, a Qatar airways plane was hit by a tractor too grounding it. “If you look at all the incidents, it is always because the driver or operator involved made a mistake. At the airport, mistakes can be catastrophic,” says an official from Air Operations.

Many contract drivers of airlines who ferry passengers in buses from terminals to  waiting planes are either ignorant of tarmac rules (including runway markings, loading and unloading baggage) or flout them. While airlines and the Airports Authority of India claim to have qualified drivers to operate buses and manage ground handling operations, the repeated accidents prove the contrary. There are more than 700 ground handling staff at Chennai airport. How badly trained they are and the dependence on contractors to hire drivers can be gauged from the fact that a van hit a plane because the driver was wearing slippers which got entangled in the accelerator. So not only are you not safe in the skies but all bets are off even when you are on the tarmac. And they are spending crores on an International airport and getting walklators, etc!


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