AIADMK MP's suicide threat over Cauvery issue questions EPS-OPS faction's ability to fight for Tamil Nadu, adds to public disgust

It should have bothered AIADMK MP A Navaneethakrishnan that hardly any lawmaker in the Rajya Sabha got perturbed by his dramatic threat on Wednesday. The Rajya Sabha member announced that all his party MPs will commit suicide if the Cauvery Management Board was not formed by 29 March.

If you examine the footage from the House of Elders, Union Minister of Textiles, Smriti Irani seated in the adjoining row can be seen engaged in continuous chatter with another MP, not paying heed to Navaneethakrishnan's threat, which was said not once, not twice, not thrice, not four but five times. That is a commentary on the seriousness with which the representatives from Tamil Nadu are taken by the treasury benches.

File image of O Panneerselvam (left) and E Palaniswamy. PTI

File image of O Panneerselvam (left) and E Palaniswamy. PTI

With pressure mounting on AIADMK to flex its muscles in New Delhi, this attempt to brag about a suicide squad was the best Navaneethakrishnan could come up. That he didn't go far with it, was a proof that even his colleagues knew he was merely playing to the galleries. His fellow MPs distanced themselves from his outburst, saying it was Navaneethakrishnan's individual angst and did not reflect the party's position.

This tactic was surprising coming from Navaneethakrishnan. The leader of AIADMK in the Rajya Sabha has served as the Advocate General of Tamil Nadu when Jayalalithaa was the chief minister and also held the position of AIADMK legal wing secretary. He also appeared for Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case. Being a lawyer, Navaneethakrishnan ought to have known that threats of this kind or, going forward, attempt to commit suicide, are frowned upon by law.

The MP made the point that people back home in Tamil Nadu want the AIADMK Parliamentary group to resign. That was a rare, honest admission of the lack of credibility of the state's representatives. When he declared that the MPs were willing to die, it was an expression of going the extra mile. Except that it sounded more like bombast and an empty threat.

So much so that the cynical on social media converted the threat into a joke. Political analyst Shankar tweeted: "For the first time, Tamil Nadu people do not want the central government to form the Cauvery Management Board".

For more than a year now, the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu has given the impression of being directionless, with more time spent in politicking between the Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam factions of the ruling party. It has done little to dispel the notion that the BJP is indulging in backseat driving, keeping a leash on the government with Income Tax and CBI raids. Panneerselvam's disclosure that he rejoined AIADMK at Narendra Modi's behest, only led to the suspicion that BJP is ruling Tamil Nadu by proxy.

The manner in which AIADMK has conducted itself over the Cauvery issue has only strengthened that impression. While the Supreme Court verdict on 16 February reduced Tamil Nadu's share of Cauvery water, the only silver lining was that a Board had to be constituted within six weeks to monitor the release of water. But all the Tamil Nadu government has done since the judgment is to play the waiting game.

By giving the Centre a long rope till 29 March, the AIADMK leadership was only buying time because it was obvious to everyone that BJP, with its political interest in the Karnataka Assembly elections, was hardly going to take a decision that would be perceived negatively in the upper riparian state. The Centre has gone to the Supreme court at the last minute, asking for a clarification and this is seen as a delaying tactic.

In order to send the message that its MPs are fighting the Centre for the cause of the farmers in the Cauvery delta, they kept raising slogans in the Well of the Upper House, forcing adjournments everyday for over two weeks now.

The timing was terrible because it coincided with two separate motions of no-confidence that were sought to be moved by YSR Congress and Telugu Desam Party. AIADMK was seen to be protesting at the behest of the ruling BJP, only to get the Lok Sabha adjourned. Ideally, people from Tamil Nadu would have preferred their MPs to use the debate during the no-trust motion to articulate the agrarian distress and expose the duplicity of the Centre over the Cauvery issue. By staying in protest mode, AIADMK has only reinforced the perception that 7, Lok Kalyan Marg is its new Poes Garden.

Has AIADMK then, despite being the third largest group of MPs in the Lok Sabha, lost the spine to fight for Tamil Nadu? Does the large parliamentary group count for nothing in terms of political clout?

Even in the ongoing debate over the apprehension of south Indian states that they will get a raw deal if the 2011 Census is taken as the base by the 15th Finance Commission, EPS has been quiet. It is MK Stalin, the leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, who has been articulating the state's position. This is ironical because Tamil Nadu stands to lose the most given its excellent performance over the past few decades in controlling its population.

Given the public disgust over the AIADMK's inability to even mildly criticise New Delhi, Navaneethakrishnan's reference to 'suicide' may end up proving prophetic in a political sense. Under Jayalalithaa, the party was seen as an unpredictable outfit, with a mind of its own. The AIADMK of today does a poor job of even minding its own business.

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Updated Date: Mar 29, 2018 15:55:11 IST

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