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DMK’s political game with a one-day bandh

 S Sethuraman |  2016-09-17 21:24:05.0  |  New Delhi

DMK’s political game with a one-day bandh

Highly frustrated that it was not past the winning post in the 2016 Assembly election, the DMK veteran Mr Karunanidhi (93) and son Mr M K Stalin, the heir apparent, have determined to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the Jayalalithaa Government. 
DMK did make a big come-back from its humiliating defeat in 2011 with 23 seats to 98 this time in the 234-member Tamil Nadu Assembly. The new leader of opposition Mr Stalin, while claiming a constructive role for his party, had led a series of walk-outs on some pretext or the other, in the recent budget session of the new Assembly. But this does not absolve the AIADMK Government and its Ministers and partymen of primary responsibility in triggering most of these walk-outs. And DMK members have mostly been unsuccessful in getting the Speaker (from the ruling party) expunge provocative remarks from the Treasury benches.

Be that as it may, the state-wide bandh on September 16 called by traders associations and some farmers, in the wake of violence and damage to buses and other property of Tamils in Bengaluru and other places in Karnataka, was strongly backed by Mr Karunanidhi besides smaller parties who lost in the Assembly election.

The bandh was totally uncalled for, if one looks at how the Supreme Court has handled the Cauvery river water dispute, on a petition by the AIADMK Government and a subsequent disputation by Karnataka. The apex court initially ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water for 10 days for the parched lands of the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu. 

Karnataka grumbled but did begin release while going in appeal against the SC order, and meanwhile, its law and order forces failed to check widespread violence and extensive damage to property, especially trucks and establishments of Tamils in the Congress-ruled state.

The apex court had strongly denounced the violence and reminded the Karnataka Government of its obligations to maintain law and order. However, looking at the magnitude of the mindless violence, the apex court slightly modified the earlier order on quantum of release to Tamil Nadu.

In trying to hold the scales even, the Court had gone further on September 15, the day before TN bandh, urging the two state governments to "maintain their dignity and respect for rule of law", and pointed out neither bandhs nor agitations could take place after the Supreme Court passed an order “which has to be complied with".

This inter-state river water dispute has a long history and Karnataka has refused to accept a Tribunal final award nor did the Centre over the last decade set up the recommended Cauvery Management Board. The Modi Government is now seized of the dispute and it remains to be seen whether the problem is any nearer to the solution.

While the AIADMK Government's decision to seek the Supreme Court intervention had put its political rivals in the state on the defensive, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has much to reflect on the style and substance of her rule, after its celebrated first 100 days on August 31. The ruling dispensation has come in for a series of adverse comments from both the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court over scores of "frivolous" defamation cases launched by it against any criticism deemed to reflect on the Chief Minister.

The High Court also rapped the state government for failure to avert floods which drowned parts of Chennai in December last year.    Indeed AIADMK fared relatively poorly in the subsequent Assembly elections in Chennai region which returned the maximum number of DMK men. The ruling party was also censured for its freebies-loaded manifesto.

Ms Jayalalithaa has, on the one hand, proved a valiant fighter for states' rights and would not easily let the Modi Government dictate the terms of GST which the latter wants to rush with implementation from April 1, 2017. She has fiscal and other issues related to Centre-State relations and have urged reversal of trends of "centralisation".

Within the State, she still maintains her zealously guarded image of "Amma" dispensing welfare schemes. "The people of Tamil Nadu are my family and their welfare is my life", she recently proclaimed.  However, an imperious style of governance is unmistakable in the way of decision-making, frequent shifts in the Council of Ministers or abrupt shifting of top officials including suspension of a former Chief Secretary.  

Tamil Nadu, as a leading state, has also fallen behind in attracting more investments and expanding and diversifying the industrial base. The state has run up deficits, welfare schemes, and subsidies claiming a larger share of the budget revenues.

Maybe after the civic elections due in October -, she is confident of sweeping most local bodies - the Chief Minister would turn to rebuilding the eroded fiscal base of Government,  with some new taxes now that Tamil Nadu would also be a loser when GST comes into force. IPA 

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

S Sethuraman

S Sethuraman

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