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Centre, states must emulate Tamil Nadu example

Last Updated : 20 May 2021, 20:59 IST

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Till recently, Tamil Nadu politics was dominated by two stalwarts, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, whose animosity towards each other was legendary, but this atmosphere of hostility seems set to change with M K Stalin, the new Chief Minister, treading a conciliatory, rather than confrontationist, path. In fact, Stalin had laid the foundation in 2016 when, in a move that caught political circles by surprise, he had attended the swearing-in ceremony of Jayalalithaa who, in turn, thanked him for the gesture. Now, in another departure from the acrimonious past, Stalin has set up an all-party committee to guide his government on handling the pandemic.

Headed by the Chief Minister himself, the 13-member panel has only one member from the DMK and includes C Vijayabaskar, who was health minister in the previous AIADMK government. While some may argue that Stalin’s lack of administrative experience might have necessitated this move, it does require a great deal of political sagacity to reach out to a party with which the DMK has been in a bitter rivalry for decades, in the larger interest of the state. Under Vijayabaskar, Tamil Nadu was well prepared to handle the second wave and the government will greatly benefit from his experience and lessons learnt.

Unfortunately, such statesmanship has not been displayed either by chief ministers of other states or by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the Centre, far from actively consulting the opposition, even well-meaning suggestions made by them have been treated with scorn. When former prime minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Modi, his letter received a contemptuous reply from Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. Courtesy, if not protocol, demanded a response from the Prime Minister himself. When West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sought to draw Modi’s attention to various issues, she received a response from Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman through a microblogging site. Almost every opposition leader who sought to engage with the Centre, with the exception of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, met with similar humiliation.

Whatever experts and bureaucrats may suggest, the final decision is taken by the political leadership, which in a national crisis needs to act in unison. The Centre and states should take a leaf out of Tamil Nadu and set up multi-party panels to offer counsel to the government. Both the stubborn unilateralism of the Centre and the deep cracks within our political class have severely blunted India’s fight against the pandemic. Unless the political class as a whole unites, at least on the limited question of fighting the pandemic, getting the country back on track will be a difficult task.

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Published 20 May 2021, 20:18 IST

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