Updated: May 8, 2021 8:03:38 am
After years of waiting, DMK president MK Stalin, 68, was sworn in as the 12th chief minister of Tamil Nadu on Friday. This is the first DMK ministry in a decade and the first since the demise of party patriarch and Stalin’s father, M Karunanidhi. Stalin’s ascent to office comes at a time when Opposition-ruled states are increasingly seen as the bulwark against the centralising governance model of the Narendra Modi government and the BJP’s ideological project of a unitarian India. The Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA) led by DMK had flagged secularism and federalism in the campaign, both defined in opposition to BJP, even though BJP is a marginal player in state politics. As the face of DMK, and of Dravidian politics, Stalin could well be pitchforked into a national role.
However, Stalin’s first priority would be establishing his authority in Tamil Nadu. DMK’s primary rival in state politics, AIADMK, has held together after J Jayalalithaa’s demise and avoided an electoral washout despite a two-term anti-incumbency. A third party, Naam Tamilar Katchi led by Seeman, has emerged as a serious electoral player with an ethnic chauvinistic agenda and seven per cent vote. Stalin will need to respond to these political challenges by refashioning the DMK’s cadre character and enforcing modern governance practices. He could expand on the welfarist legacy of Dravidian parties by raising the quality of public services and delivery of public goods rather than extending the list of freebies. Tamil Nadu has done well to build robust public healthcare and public education ecosystems. It now calls for a new generation of investment and reforms that can transform them into world class facilities. A perennial problem in the state is water shortage — for agriculture and domestic consumption — which requires better conservation and judicious use. All these, however, can be realised only if the fiscal situation improves and a Covid-wrecked economy is put back on the rails.
Stalin has opted to carry on with a DMK tradition of keeping even pre-poll allies out of the Cabinet. Another let-down is the gender balance in the Cabinet: A party that traces its lineage to Periyar E V Ramasamy, who placed women’s agency and emancipation at the core of his social justice agenda, ought to have more than just two women in its ministry.
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