IT has been little over a month since J Jayalalithaa has taken over as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Most people would argue that one month is too short a period to pass a judgement on the quality of governance. However, one month is a sufficiently long period to assess the Chief Minister’s attitude towards governance. To do this, one has to examine her directives and announcements in the context of her landmark victory in the Assembly elections.
The AIADMK alliance swept the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, winning more than 200 seats. The AIADMK itself won a handsome 150 seats. The sentiment of the people was loud and clear—fury against corruption and dynasty. The 2G scam loomed large over the elections and the people were fed up with the manner in which family rule prevailed over all else in the state. Jayalalithaa was thus empowered with a mandate to liberate the state machinery from the shackles of family rule and to deliver corruption-free governance.
Much of the DMK’s strength, in elections and otherwise, lies in the vast financial empire of the ‘First Family’ which is itself a consequence of large-scale corruption and market monopoly. These finances are then allegedly applied at the time of elections by way of distributing largesse to the voters with a tacit indication that they must vote for the DMK. If these allegations are true, a strong case exists for scrutinising the financial interests of the DMK.
Accordingly, Jayalalithaa decidedly refused to move into the new Secretariat. Instead, the Chief Minister ordered a probe into the allegations of irregularities and improprieties relating to the construction of the new multi-crore Secretariat. A Commission has been constituted to look into alleged excess expenditure resulting in loss to the exchequer. This sort of announcement sets the tone for a much needed no-nonsense approach to corruption.
Kalanithi Maran, owner of Sun Network, is DMK patriarch Karunanidhi’s grand-nephew. For several years, Sun TV Network has established its dominance in the market by taking control of the cable distribution business in the state. Cable operators were forced to work exclusively for the Sun-owned Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV). Gradually, competitors such as Hathway were driven out of the market. In response to this, Jayalalithaa announced the nationalisation of cable distribution and is in the process of revamping the state owned Arasu Cable TV Corporation.
Elections in Tamil Nadu are often a battle between the populist welfare measures between the two fronts. Keen to come across as a leader who delivers on her promises, Jayalalithaa has already launched a host of welfare schemes including providing PDS rice free of cost, hiking old age pension, providing marriage assistance to educated girls and increasing compensation for fishermen during the fishing ban period.
Apart from her posturing at the state-level, early indications suggest that Jayalalithaa is not afraid to take on the Centre. The boldest statement made by the Chief Minister in her relatively short tenure was her reaction to the recent fuel price hike by the Central Government. She termed this as “unacceptable”. Jayalalithaa has the numeric majority to talk tough with the Centre. And talk tough she did! While the Centre sought to protect its revenues at the expense of the States, Jayalalithaa insisted that the Centre “has no moral right to advise state governments to reduce VAT”.
While at Delhi, Jayalalithaa had forcefully demanded the ouster of Union Ministers P Chidambaram for his alleged electoral fraud and Dayanidhi Maran for his role in the dubious Aircel-Maxis deal. Most recently, the Chief Minister enlisted the help of Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, to raise the issue of retrieving Katchchatheevu Island, where Indian fishermen have suffered at the hands of the Sri Lankan navy, in Parliament.
In a little more than one month, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has certainly restored a semblance of governance to Tamil Nadu. She has established herself as a leader who keeps the interests of her people paramount. This however does not mean that there are no challenges. Indeed, Jayalalithaa must persist with her crusade against corruption and must continue to raise her voice against the Centre’s overbearing attitude. She would do well to keep away from parasitic pseudo-secular voices that will stop at nothing to engulf her administration with their tentacles.
The Chief Minister will truly distinguish herself when she transforms the state administration into a people-oriented and responsive administration. The biggest mistake she can make in this endeavour is to ally with a corrupt and thoroughly discredited Congress which has betrayed the aam aadmi and has failed miserably in tackling corruption and inflation.