Before you can say ‘Ithayatheivam Ezhathaai Ponniyinselvi Niranthara Pothuseyalalar Hon’ble Dr Amma’, an honorific for the beloved and recently deceased chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK has gone from a position of strength to a total wreck. With one year under its belt, the present leadership is reduced to an absurd numbers game between two abbreviations – OPS and EPS. It is not clear who will come out on top, but it is certain that there will be no second year anniversary for this government. It is against this background that we are left with the task of understanding what has taken place over the last year.
The first three months saw an increasingly unwell J Jayalalithaa sign off on some election promises — closure of 500 TASMAC (government-run liquor) outlets, partial farm loan waivers, etc. But, it is the political developments over the last nine months which should give inspiration to reality TV shows like Bigg Brother and even House of Cards.
A recounting may show the mirror to the people of Tamil Nadu, show us how far we have fallen from the glorious ideals that Periyar once stood for.
First, a sitting Chief Minister is admitted in an almost unconscious state to a Chennai hospital, while an official statement stating that she is under observation for ‘fever and dehydration’. The 75 days which follow are witness to an unbelievable transformation in the heart of political power. Even though no one meets or speaks to Jayalalithaa, ADMK spokespersons insist she is hale and hearty. Her ultimate passing on December 5, 2016, only gives further grist to rumour mills.
But, the real drama lies ahead. Senior ADMK leaders plead that Amma’s protégé, Sasikala Natarajan, should lead the party and government. When she magnanimously accepts, sitting chief minister O Paneerselvam is the first to prostrate at her feet. ADMK is saved, the new government shouts from the rooftops.
Naturally, more was to come. At a pace rivalling an 1980s Tamil family movie, where the dead mother is replaced by the evil step-mother, Sasikala or Chinnamma is parachuted onto our TV screens, billboards and ultimately, government. But there was just one minor hiccup. O Paneerselvam, no longer Chief Minister, now remembered that Jayalalithaa’s death had been a real mystery. Why have the police, who had been reporting to him over the previous four months, not probed her death, he asked? Amma’s spirit, with whom he had conversed as he meditated at night had awoken his conscience, he added. But Sasikala, not one to be disturbed by such unearthly visitations, packed off her 130 MLAs to a beach resort on the East Coast Road.
For eight whole days, the ADMK MLAs were holed up inside the beach resort. Reminiscent in the manner in which Jayalalithaa’s hospital had insisted she was working from inside the hospital ICU, we were told the ADMK MLAs were only using the salubrious surroundings of the resort to work. All of Tamil Nadu watched the beach resort, Raj Bhavan and Supreme Court to see what would happen next. It was like watching three IPL matches on three adjacent TV screens.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court in the Jayalalithaa Disproportionate Assets Case returned a conviction and held that Jayalalithaa possessed income over and beyond her means and had been aided in doing so by her proxy, Sasikala. Did that mean Tamil Nadu would now have Jayalalithaa’s proxy’s proxy as our next Chief Minister? The whole situation was like watching a tragedy slowly unfold inside a farce.
Some people tried to see the glass as being half-full. After all, we had got four Chief Ministers for one vote. Not such a bad thing. That’s how the E Palanisami era began. This man, who had won the vote of confidence said he would continue to rule in Amma and Chinnamma’s name — unmindful that both had far too recently been convicted by the Supreme Court.
We were not let down. Within months of EPS taking forward Amma’s legacy, the second highest ranking leader of ADMK, TTV Dinakaran, was jailed on charges of bribing the Election Commission. State Health Minister and EPS confidant, Vijay Bhaskar, was raided by the Income Tax Department; seized documents showed the distribution of Rs 89 crore to voters in one constituency by the Chief Minister and eight other Ministers.
The strange allegations, counter-allegations, split, reunion and re-split of the ADMK factions have been testament to whatever governance means in Tamil Nadu this past year. It is commonly said these days that the state government has seen OPS, EPS and is now on UPS.
The state is burning. The issues of GST, UDAY, NEET, Food Security Act, agrarian crisis, industrial slump and the imposition of Hindi are driving its people up the wall. When was the last time a Chief Secretary was raided by the Income Tax department? Is there any other state in the country where a Union Minister holds a review meeting while the Chief Minister plays second fiddle? Is there a state where the Budget session of the Legislative Assembly has been prorogued without the Demand for Grants being completed?
But, then do you know of any state government where there is no government?
That is not a melancholy witticism. Did you know that Tamil Nadu is the only state where there is :
No Full-time Governor
No State Public Service Commission
No Mayors or Panchayat Chairpersons or Councillors
No Lok Ayukta
No Full-time State Vigilance Commissioner
Oh yes, one more thing. Tamil Nadu must be the only state where the ruling party doesn’t have an election symbol.
Meanwhile, the list of people protesting grows larger. From Jallikattu protests seeking recognition of Tamil cultural heritage, Neduvasal protests demanding that hydrocarbon schemes be stopped, farmers seeking loan waivers, women urging closure of TASMAC outlets and so on. The cry for better governance is growing louder. It is not a matter of if but when the next protest will erupt. When that happens, rest be assured that the demand this time will not be for better governance, but a better government altogether.