Editor's Note: As Tamil Nadu heads into poll frenzy, the overarching theme of the campaigns — both by the ruling party as well as the Opposition — is that of governance. While Opposition parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) claim a breakdown of governance in the current regime, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam argues that governance has never been better in the state.
In this series, Firstpost takes a dive into various aspects of governance in the past five years to analyse the merits and demerits of each party’s claim.
In the sweltering summer of 2014, while in the thick of a dusty and doomed election campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) heir apparent MK Stalin imitated the whirring blades of a helicopter. “Tak-tak-tak-tak-tak…,” he mimicked, much to the glee of the crowd surrounding him in Madurai. Stalin was mocking Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, leader of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the arch rival of the DMK.
“Her feet never touch the ground,” said Stalin of her. “She is always in the air.”
This criticism by the DMK scion is not a new one. Jayalalithaa is notoriously known as the Iron Butterfly — a tough taskmaster surrounding herself with an aura of immense power as ministers and MPs alike prostrate in front of her, referring to her as ‘Amma’ or mother. The former actor does not suffer fools gladly and has earned her reputation of being an efficient administrator who takes quick decisions.
“When they heard that I had come to power, all the pickpockets and criminals ran away to Andhra,” crowed a triumphant Jayalalithaa following a massive sweep in 2011, reinforcing her image of being an uncompromising administrator. Political analysts agree that Jayalalithaa, in this term, has been uncompromising, and not just as an administrator.
In 2012, over 300 cases of sedition were slapped against those protesting the commissioning of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli. While only 11 were actually arrested on those charges, FIRs filed included hundreds of unknown persons. The protesters finally had to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court which directed the state government to withdraw all criminal cases against the protesting fishermen and activists.
The arrest of folk singer Kovan in December 2015 on sedition charges too caused a furore in the state. A little known singer hailing from Trichy, Kovan had composed and sung two songs advocating the imposition of Prohibition in the state. In these songs he had criticised the Chief Minister as well. Kovan was later granted bail by the court.
“It is only a government that has not performed properly and is unable to counter a legitimate demand from the people, which will resort to these kinds of tactics,” argued political analyst Aazhi Senthilnathan. “These sedition cases are entirely absurd. Sedition is nothing but a continuation of the British Raj, it has no place in a modern democracy. As long as one is simply expressing views without resorting to arms or inciting anyone to violence, it is not sedition. How can you call protesting against a nuclear plant or against alcohol as anti-national? They are simply expressing a view that the government may not like,” he added.
A string of corruption charges
The AIADMK government has been battling a string of corruption charges flung at them by the Opposition as well as the media in the state. From the Comptroller Auditor General’s stinging rebukes on purchase of costlier power from private power producers, allegations of favouring the Adanis in the fixing of solar power tariffs to allegations of corruption for transfers and postings in almost every government department, the AIADMK has weathered them all in silence.
The chief minister has taken action only in two instances — the Aavin milk adulteration scam which unfolded in 2014 and saw the arrests of a number of AIADMK functionaries involved in the scam. And in 2015, Agriculture Minister Agri Krishnamoorthy was relieved of his post and subsequently arrested for aiding and abetting the suicide of an engineer in his department, Muthukumarasamy, who allegedly refused to take money for postings of drivers in the department.
“Who will probe this corruption?” asked C Lakshmanan, associate professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, also a political analyst. “In Tamil Nadu, corruption has been highly democratised — from top to bottom, it is corrupt. Corruption is no more a shameful thing or a taboo. Corruption is highly legitimised, rationalised and democratised. That is the reason for the silence on such issues,” he said.
Defamation and arrests over Facebook posts
Close to 200 defamation cases have been filed against media publications and politicians of opposition parties for allegedly defaming the Chief Minister, in various courts across the state. Tamil media groups Vikatan, Dinamalar, Nakkeeran and The Times of India group have been on the receiving end of a variety of defamation notices slapped on them by the state government. Opposition leader and chief of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Vijaykanth, has the dubious distinction of having the most number of defamation suits filed against a politician. DMK chief M Karunanidhi, in January, made a public show of appearing in court for a hearing on a defamation case against him.
In fact in November 2015, the Supreme Court has asked why there was a flood of appeals from Tamil Nadu in cases of criminal defamation. “These kind of cases are mostly coming from this state – why?” asked Justice Deepak Misra. “You have to understand that these comments are criticisms of a concept of governance. There is nothing against an individual,” he added.
In 2014, a DMDK functionary was arrested for posting remarks against the chief minister on his Facebook page. A Tamil media group too has been issued notice for similar posts on its Facebook page.
“Jayalalithaa brooks no criticism,” said political analyst and author Vaasanthi. “In spite of the brute majority the party has, she is the only one, the supreme one. She thinks any criticism will dent her image in the eyes of her own people. It is the party’s support that has made her so supreme a leader. It is similar to how God is created — by the devotion of the public. No authoritarian person wants criticism. It is the same thing that is happening at the Centre,” she said.
AIADMK spokespersons were unwilling to comment on the above issues.
Over one crore new voters have registered to vote in 2016, an unprecedented number of new voters, of which only 6 lakh are first time voters. The Opposition is banking on projecting an image of an autocratic and unapproachable chief minister in order to convince the youth to vote for them. But Amma, armed with welfare schemes and a larger-than-life persona, may well be more than a match for them.
The author tweets @sandhyaravishan