DMK leader Karunanidhi has been making the most of the political opportunism in an unexpected predicament in governance for the ruling AIADMK, with its charismatic Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the hospital since September 22 undergoing treatment for lung infection and being provided respiratory support.
The uncertainty about the duration of her stay in Chennai Apollo Hospital would appear to have whetted the appetite of 93-old DMK Opposition leader to keep the pot boiling, raising a spectre of a paralysed administration, files piling up and Ministers “forgetting” the existence of Secretariat. He also called for an interim arrangement.
The Health bulletins had been reporting earlier that she was responding to treatment and making progress. Leaders of various parties had called at the hospital to make enquiries, notably by Rahul Gandhi and also by Acting Governor of Tamil Nadu CH Vidyasagar Rao.
They all were informed of the Chief Minister’s health status and details of treatment given her. The Acting Governor later also held consultations with senior ministers and officials on the visit of the Central team on Cauvery water dispute and other administrative matters
According to latest hospital bulletins, Ms. Jayalalithaa is constantly being monitored by Intensivists and consultants as necessary respiratory support, antibiotics, nutrition, supportive therapy and passive physiotherapy are being given to her. She is being supervised by a UK specialist and a team of three doctors from Delhi's AIIMS hospital.
It was also indicated in one of the bulletins that she might have to stay in the hospital longer than initially expected. This triggered DMK demands for interim or alternative arrangements. The 89-member DMK opposition, staging a spectacular comeback, in the May 2016 Assembly election has still not reconciled to power having eluded it by a relatively small margin.
The poll renewed the mandate for AIADMK which secured 134 seats. Karunanidhi’s emotion, understandable though, makes him assert that he would see a return of Dravidian rule (DMK) in his lifetime. DMK had also been repeatedly calling for an all-party meeting being convened by AIADMK government to discuss the inter-state water disputes and Centre’s reversal of earlier decision to set up a Cauvery Management Board.
But in the matter of governance at the state level, Karunanidhi’s DMK remains in splendid isolation as all other opposition parties, at local or national levels including the Congress and BJP did not back its call for an acting Chief Minister being appointed by the Governor.
In a swift move putting an end to the raging controversy, Acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao on October 11 allocated, in an exercise of powers under the Constitution, all portfolios held by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to Finance Minister Mr O Panneerselvam, who will also preside over Cabinet meetings.
A Raj Bhavan release said this “arrangement has been made as per the advice of Chief Minister Selvi J Jayalalithaa”. The Acting Governor also made it clear that Ms Jayalalithaa would continue to be the Chief Minister.
Panneerselvam, Finance Minister, had twice been a stand-in for CM, the last one during her trial in the Disproportionate Assets Case heard in Karnataka High Court. The CM’s portfolios transferred to him until she resumes her duties include Public, IAS, IPS, Indian Forest Service, General Administration, District Revenue Officers, Police, and Home.
The Governor’s announcement helps to restore the image of a functioning Government and has been welcomed by most parties, particularly the naming of Mr Panneerselvam to preside over the Cabinet meetings and handle the CM’s portfolios during her absence.
Whatever the litany of issues raised by Karunanidhi as ones affecting the people including the Cauvery dispute being left unattended at present, the DMK Treasurer and Leader of Opposition in Tamil Nadu Assembly M K. Stalin welcomed the Governor’s decision in naming “a leader for the Cabinet" as one in the interest of the state and the people.
The Left did not favour an interim Chief Minister but only whether arrangements were made to look after the departments managed by the CM.
Rahul's visit to the hospital in Chennai to enquire about Jaya's health condition and his good wishes for her energy did not go down well with the DMK especially his not having made a courtesy call on the veteran DMK leader Mr Karunanidhi.
There was also speculation as to whether there is some rethinking in Congress circles on future alliance makeup keeping 2019 Lok Sabha poll in view, in particular with a new State Congress Chief S Thirunavakkarasu. The latter disagreed with a demand of DMK for appointing a new CM in the absence of Ms Jayalalithaa.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)