Tamil Nadu : Breaking the Tradition
Jayalalithaa broke the tradition by winning two consecutive assembly elections. Will she be able to change the contours of governance in the State?
After successfully sending the script writer turned politician DMK Chief Karunanidhi back to home in the just concluded assembly polls, the yester- year heroine assumed office for second time in a row on May 23, after her mentor MR Ramachandran who set the record in 1984.
In its manifesto, AIADMK promised gold ornaments for brides below poverty line, 50 per cent subsidy for working women to purchase mopeds, free cellphones and free laptops with internet connection to all Class X and Class XII students. DMK, on the other hand, scaled down its 2006 promises of free colour televisions to include more concessions and loan waivers this time. In her campaign speeches and manifesto, Jayalalithaa promised phased prohibition by reducing working hours of liquor shops, having fewer shops in each area and gradually cutting consumption though she did not put a timeline to it. Tamil Nadu, as is well known, depends on revenue from alcohol, which generates more than “Rs. 25,000 crore”.
Shortly after assuming office as Chief Minister for a record sixth time, Jayalalithaa signed a file fulfilling major poll promises that will cost the exchequer over Rs. 7,566 crore. The orders relate to free 100 units of power to all domestic consumers, shutting down 500 liquor shops and reducing working hours of shops, 8 grams of gold to poor women getting married, and 200 units of free power for handlooms and 750 units for power looms every two months.
Jayalalithaa waived some Rs. 5,780 crore of crop and other medium and long-term loans taken by small and marginal farmers from cooperative banks.
Jayalalithaa's rise as a political leader has been dramatic, mercurial and controversial as well. She was born in Mysore (now in the state of Karnataka) at a place called Melukote on February 24, 1948. She lost her father Jayaram, a lawyer by profession, when she was just two years old. Her mother, Vedavathi, started working in Tamil cinema with the screen name of Sandhya. Jayalalithaa completed her matriculation in 1964. She started as a child artist and became a versatile actor. Her career saw her working in films of different languages, including English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
“Free 100 units to domestic users concession would annually cost the exchequer Rs. 1,607 crore,” an official release stated. When free power is given to farmers and power looms, the total subsidy will become Rs 6,500 crore. The state government has to pay this amount to Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco) which is already reeling debt burden of over Rs. 85,000 crore.
The current Assembly is unique in many ways. For the first time, technically, it will be a four-party House with no representation for the Left parties. Manithaneya Jayanayaka Katchi, Tamil Nadu Kongu Ilaignar Peravari and Mukkulathor Pulippadai are part of the AIADMK alliance. There are 89 DMK members, eight from Congress and one from IUML in the opposition benches as they had contested the polls with the DMK.
This is only the third time since 1967 that the main opposition party in the state has more than 50 MLAs in the House. The Congress, the principal opposition, had 51 MLAs in the 1967, and 1971 assembly, and the AIADMK had 61 members in the 2006-2011 assembly. In the current assembly, 42 per cent of the members will sit in the opposition, with the DMK accounting for a formidable 89 members.
Besides attending to the unfinished agenda from her previous term, including speeding up infrastructure projects and schemes for generating jobs, Jayalalithaa has to fulfill the long list of promises in her poll manifesto. While the economically lower strata appears to have given her the thumbs up for her welfare schemes, the affluent sections in urban areas endorsed her five-year tenure with expectations of further development and industrialisation.
As already said, it would not be a cake walk for her this time with mounting cash crunch due to freebies. She can not escape by blaming the erstwhile regime for each and everything. “The present government has increased the total debt in the last five years to the level of Rs 2 lakh crore. With the new schemes, the total debt will go up to 5 lakh crore,” said PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss.
The daunting major task before her is how she is going to generate revenue to fulfill the slew of freebies and other welfare measures mentioned in the poll manifesto. She may take a leaf out of DMK manifesto which said revenue to offset the implementation of total prohibition by taking over of mineral sand quarries, granite quarries which are milching cows for any government.
Karuananidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi said that DMK’s first priority would be to restore democracy in the Assembly and ensure there is a healthy debate on issues concerning the people. Sticking to his earlier stand that the assembly hall is not disabled-friendly, Karunanidhi, who is wheelchair-bound, is not expected to attend proceedings regularly. Interestingly, DMK Chief Karuananidhi has greeted all the Chief Ministers who won in the May polls except her beta noire Jayalalithaa. “DMK has got the opportunity to function as a robust opposition with a never before seen strength in the history of Tamil Nadu,” he said in a statement.
The BJP’s vote share of 2.8 per cent took it to the fifth slot in performance, even ahead of the DMDK, which had contested in the company of the Left parties, MDMK, VCK and TMC. It has managed to come third, edging out the DMDK-PWF, in as many as 30 constituencies, including those in Chennai. TN voters totally rejected all caste outfits once for all in this election.
With a stronger opposition, slew of freebies waiting to be implemented as against mounting debts, a few months time to face local body polls, her health conditions, assets in Supreme Court which is nearing for verdict are among other things just before her. How to tackle them is her only priority. She has to live up to the people's expectation that put her in the saddle with a consecutive term. n