Amma on a new high?

Amma on a new high?

TN politics: As Jayalalitha looks to be the peoples princess, 2G shadows lengthen for DMK

Amma on a new high?

But it was this horizon of a continuous, progressive and stable regime which Lee Kuan Yew came to symbolise as Singapore Prime Minister for 31 long years that reverberated in the seat of power at Fort St George here at the fag end of J Jayalalitha’s first term as Chief Minister in early 1990s.

And lending a distinct voice to that chorus hailing the AIADMK Supremo for her Lee-like USP was none other than the stocky former PWD minister Raja Kannappan in Jayalalitha’s Cabinet. In a twist of irony now, he is pitted against the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, challenging the latter’s election to Lok Sabha from Sivaganga in May 2009.

‘Nirandhara Mudhal Amaichar (permanent Chief Minister)’ was the political slogan AIADMK cadres led by Kannappan often raised to capture Lee’s magic, a tag that the DMK men also began to flaunt later to stylise their patriarch, the 88-year-old M Karunanidhi. But history is hardly linear.

In reality, this crowning metaphor eluded Jayalalitha in the post-1996 political turmoil that beset her – with a wave of corruption cases against her raised by the then DMK regime. It was a battle she had to fight for a major part of her second term also (2001-06). Yet, the era of coalition politics in New Delhi has placed her in the charming list of prospective Prime Ministers.

One month into her third term as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, after a resounding victory in April-May 2011 Assembly election, the political setting has dramatically changed, what with the DMK relegated to the third place in the Assembly having conceded its traditional opposition space to the fledgling DMDK led by actor Vijayakant.

So the next time Raja Kannappan eulogises ‘Amma’ as Tamil Nadu’s Lee Kuan Yew, he may be more nearer the mark. If her functional style now is any indication, Jayalalitha looks all set to be the “people’s princess” this time, reaching out to the masses with a bag of goodies and freebies.

While beginning with the rollout of the free rice scheme, enhancing the marriage assistance to women, old age pension and several others to follow in the coming months, including free laptops to lakhs of higher secondary and under-graduate students, electric fans, mixies, grinders et all to women, this people-oriented State largesse is bound to endear her to the people.

Nonetheless, certain other measures by ‘Amma’ that seems either a reversal or neglect of the predecessor DMK regime’s decisions has not gone down well for her Government. The latest institution of a Judicial probe into the alleged irregularities in the construction of the ‘new Secretariat-cum-Assembly complex’, the brusque removal of huge volumes of precious books and rare manuscripts on classical Tamil from the old Assembly Hall when the Secretariat was being shifted back to its historic anchor, and a hasty bid to defer implementing ‘Samacheer Kalvi’ (Uniform System of School Education-USSE) have all drawn flak from various quarters.

True, the USSE has flagged quality issues among education experts, even as valid questions about the viability of the massive Chennai Metro rail project have re-surfaced. But even the AIADMK’s own ally, like the CPI(M), seeks a consultative approach to tackle such issues, particularly when schemes like the ‘Metro rail’ also have the Centre as stakeholders. But ‘Amma’s’ move for State takeover of the cable TV business has been widely welcomed, as it would free viewers from the hold of a monopolistic multi-systems operator – SCV, a part of Kalanidhi Maran’s ‘Sun TV Network’.

While Jayalalitha has been doing a commendable job in mitigating the power crisis, she has also been keen to ensure full cordiality with the Central Government, amid Congress-DMK ties coming under greater strain in the backdrop of more damaging revelations in the 2G spectrum scam.

But none expected ‘Amma’ to dramatically set the cat among the pigeons when she recently demanded P Chidambaram’s resignation, at a press  conference in Delhi after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for allegedly “playing a fraud on the nation”. She charged the Home Minister with using ‘fraudulent means’ during the counting to get elected to Lok Sabha, when AIADMK candidate Raja Kannappan ought to have won.

Jaya-Chidambaram spat

As this election petition is pending in the Madras High Court, Chidambaram quickly hit back accusing Jayalalitha of “gross contempt of court”. But politically, ‘Amma’ was not getting off on the ‘wrong foot’. A senior political source here gleaned that her combative attack on the Home Minister was underscoring the vulnerability of the UPA engulfed by a series of scams. Jayalalitha, though, expects Congress to reset political equations.

Given Chidambaram’s persisting aversion to Congress renewing its ties with the AIADMK, ‘Amma’s’ outbursts in Delhi could polarise the Pradesh Congress on the alliance issue. This is reinforced by the Congress party’s organ ‘Sandesh’ subtly ticking off the DMK by attributing the Assembly poll debacle in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to the 2G spectrum scam.

Already, vocal sections in the TNCC led by former union minister E V K S Elangovan are clamouring for the party high command to quickly snap ties with the DMK, ahead of the October panchayat elections in the State.

However, a vacillating DMK is scuttling all options to keep ‘Amma’ at bay. In the same breath, an embittered Karunanidhi, with even the Supreme Court denying bail to his daughter Kanimozhi in the 2G case, is blowing hot and cold towards Congress, hoping a door may open somewhere.

After A Raja, yet another DMK minister Dayanidhi Maran coming under the CBI scanner for his alleged role in the 2G licence scam when he was Telecom minister during 2004-07, has only added to the DMK’s woes, with Jayalalitha also demanding his resignation since the latest disclosures.  

One damaging revelation from CBI’s probe more recently has been the  millionaire-businessman and former ‘Aircel’ Chief, C Sivasankaran, being allegedly coerced by Dayanidhi to sell his stakes in ‘Aircel’ to ‘Maxis’, a Malaysian cellular company in which the majority stakes are held by another Tamil billionaire Ananda Krishnan, said to be close to the Maran family.    

While Dayanidhi Maran has categorically refuted all the charges, the CBI and Enforcement Directorate probe on payment trails in tax havens abroad threaten more disclosures. The DMK’s political menu could get even messier in the coming days, as its Madurai-based strongman M K Alagiri could also be hauled up for land-grab charges. Thus actor Rajnikant’s advice to Karunanidhi from Singapore to “take care of his health” is on a wise track. Only the small screen knows what the next Chennai soap-opera will be!

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