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Centre's hold over TN govt

Centres hold over TN govt
A shaky hold on power with a slender margin of support has made the ruling AIADMK faction led by Edappadi K Palaniswami to seek Centre's succour on a host of relief and infrastructural schemes in drought-hit Tamil Nadu and thereby gain greater credibility of governance.

Even otherwise, in an era of sudden tax raids on state ministers and other high personages, Palaniswami thought the safer course would be to court the Centre for Government's survival while for the latter it becomes an unexpected windfall in electoral fortunes.

All this should come as no surprise that as the Modi Government gets down to celebrate its three-year record of achievements-overblown in a leading pink newspaper claiming "fulfilment of expectations of India's majority" and, yes, winning "vote of trust" in India's corporates. A simultaneous countrywide gunning is on to paint select leaders in opposition in dark colours through its instruments of CBI and tax raids.

In defending their reactivation, the articulate Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would dismiss it as "revenge politics" but nevertheless calls it "a day of reckoning for many and they will be held accountable". And one more feather in his cap, launching of website "Operation Clean Money". Whatever the "substantial proof and reasonable suspicion" cited by him for these Government agencies to act, there is no denying the motivation for the timing of these actions.

Such developments are triggered at a time when regional and national-level leaders outside BJP are coming together to chart a future course of safeguarding democratic rights and promoting inclusive development at a national level. Certainly the Presidential election and the criteria in selection of the most suitable Indian for this honour, one fulfilling the spirit of Constitution and committed to honouring its obligations, would be engaging their attention.

Many of the national and state-level leaders are also likely to call on the great game-changer in national politics and the most powerful leader in Tamil Nadu, DMK Patriarch M Karunanidhi (94). Their visits would be during his birthday celebrations on June 3/4. Stalin has extended an invitation to all regional leaders besides Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh.

Karunanidhi, who is convalescing from illness over months, has always maintained that Tamil Nadu would remain a Dravidian state. That was his life's mission. Would it be so in the aftermath of the passing away of charismatic Jayalalithaa last December? Both were zealous guardians of Tamil culture and past glory. With great many workable ideas, Karunanidhi, subject to the state of health and disposition, could come up with feasible plans for all non-BJP parties to get together on a common platform at the national level while he would be equally concerned over the narrowing of options in the State even if a firm DMK-led alliance is put together.
In Tamil Nadu, one of the non-BJP states to be won over under the 2019 game plan of BJP leadership, a weakened AIADMK, split into two factions, after the demise of "Amma", may well have opened the door for a political transformation after one or the other of two Dravidian majors - AIADMK and DMK - have governed the State for 50 years.

Although the Palaniswami Government at present is under no immediate threat from the smaller rival faction of former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, it is continuously pilloried by the DMK opposition leader MK Stalin for its "ineffective responses" to the State's farmer distress, water crisis and other problems. He strongly urged the Governor to get the Assembly session reconvened to complete the budget processes and also ensure the appointment of an independent Vigilance Commissioner - a charge held additionally by one or the other senior Secretaries to Government.

Stalin has been stymied in his efforts so far to get the Palaniswami dispensation voted out, which would have created the need for a snap poll. Otherwise, in 2021, DMK alliance with its current strength of 98 in the 234-member House, would be looking confidently for a stronger mandate in post-Jaya Tamil Nadu. But then, DMK would confront BJP with all its strength drawn from Modi. BJP had since 2014 held forth against the "corrupt regimes" of both Dravidian majors but now want the AIADMK Government, though weak, to remain in power for its term (2021). That would give a larger chunk of votes for the Modi Government's nominee in the Presidential election in July.

The Modi Government would expect to become stronger in the next Lok Sabha election in 2019, judging from the moods and poll trends of recent past, and in Tamil Nadu could tie-up with AIADMK to raise the BJP share of seats in Lok Sabha. (In 2014, Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK to an unprecedented win of 37 out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu in Lok Sabha).

What has amazed observers lately is a dramatic turn in TN-Centre relations and policy interactions to the extent that the opposition parties have begun to dub the Palaniswami Ministry as "puppet" of the Central government. The fact remains the Centre, through the Minister for Urban Development, Venkaiah Naidu, is getting deeper into state policy planning for infrastructure and conducting reviews with official teams of both sides in the Secretariat. With his frequent visits to Chennai not without political significance, Naidu already appears to have emerged as the Prime Minister's point man in Tamil Nadu.

Naidu, who with Chief Minister Palaniswami, jointly launched the first underground Metro in Chennai on May 14, announced that the Centre had given Tamil Nadu Rs.1083 crores for three flagship schemes. After reviewing progress on these schemes, Naidu also cautioned that assistance would be conditional on performance. He told the Chief Minister and others "If you perform, we will cooperate" and said the state and the Centre must work together as a team. He, however, ruled out any Centre assistance for farm loan waivers which, he said, has to be done within state finances.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
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