Curious case of Tamil Nadu Politicians
On the evening of December 2nd ‘15, I sat still in front of the television as the meteorological department in Chennai predicted persistent rains for the next four days. And history stands as a testimony in what followed to the coastal city of South India. More than 500 people were killed and 18 lakh displaced by the ravaging floods. The damages and the losses caused were estimated to be around INR 20000 crore to INR 100000 crore.
Hitting the bull’s-eye, one revelation is indisputable; the political class of the state has to be held accountable for the devastation caused by the floods. Nothing is more emblematic than the government’s failure to resurrect the infrastructure of the state. It might be a forgivable logic that any government would have failed to live up to such nature’s fury. However, a lot of such holocausts could have been avoided, if the polity had followed proper infrastructure and building norms. Mindless urban planning of the city over the last two decades has made the matter worse. There are more than 1.5 lakh illegal structures in the city responsible for the disappearance of more than 300 water bodies. Neither Jayalalitha nor her ministers came out and briefed the media on the flood situation and the measures being taken. Infact it was the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi who made the first public announcement to the people about the cascading rains and reliefs being made available. Sympathy for the very poor who had to leave all their little possessions they had accumulated over a period of their lifetime.
Tamil Nadu was a paragon of administrative innovation. M.G. Ramachandran, one of the most popular actor cum politician, his mid-day meal scheme for school children stood as a torchbearer across the country when it came to welfare policies. In the last decade, both the Dravida Kazhagam parties have resorted to rational distributism of private goods in the name of free sarees, free bicycles, free cows, free goats, free laptops, free rice and free television. As the Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati pointed out in his book, ‘Why Growth Matters’, that growth would not merely pull out people above the poverty line but it would have the added beneficial effect that it would generate revenues, which could be then used to undertake redistribution. Such welfare policies came as a blessing in disguise for the populists, as it voted them to power.
Tamil Nadu is the second largest state economy and the second most industrialized state after Maharashtra in the country. It is often referred as the Detroit of India, an automobile hub in United States. An ASSOCHAM study earlier in 2015 ranked Tamil Nadu as the best performing state on eight out of nine parameters like economic growth, power, roads and infrastructure, income and removing inequality and industrial development. The cause of concern is, if one of the most developed states is least prepared to confront an apocalyptic rage, then one can only imagine the readiness of the other states.
None can stand rival to the Indian Politicians when it comes to self-obsession. From Modi’s suit to Mayawati’s statues, people have had to tolerate the woeful narcissistic behavior of our great politicians. But Jayalalithaa scored, a notch better than her political counterparts when it came to branding. Amma stickers were pasted in the relief materials that flew from other parts of the state and from across the country. The Chief Minister drew severe flak for advocating cheap publicity when the people were experiencing difficult times. The ubiquity of Jayalalithaa’s face and the name she is called by ‘Amma’ is more annoying than charming. She has branded every free goods and schemes with her face and name Amma: Amma canteen, Amma salt, Amma cement, Amma Medicals and Amma drinking water. This practice shows the defiance of the self-loving politician who attaches her persona to all the welfare programs and it looks like all the good things appear to flow from her largess.
Jayalalithaa was arrested for a ‘‘disproportionate assets’’ case in Sep’14 before she was acquitted of all the charges in May 2015. The stand-in Chief Minister Panneerselvam, one among her million worshippers, didn’t open many of the projects, which were finished, just because the Lady was in jail. The element of surprise that irks me still is the kind of melodramatic devotion that people behold over her still. Self-immolations, crucifying, suicides for the sake of a corrupted and an undeserving politician is intolerable. One can narrow it down to a single reason, which is Rajinikanth a Tamil action superstar relishes; it’s called the movie mania.
This has long been the state’s impediment as movie stars after stars came to rule the state for almost half a century now from Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran (affectionately called as MGR) to his heir Jayalalithaa. After the death of MGR, the two politicians rule the state in melodrama involving in arresting each other, verbal accusations and the most pity of them all, destroying each other’s projects and policies. The citizens of the state have long been involved in this histrionic devotion to their movie stars, which simply got carried away to their actor cum politicians as well. Fans of Rajnikanth often involve in fervent activities like milk-bathing his posters and cut-outs in front of the movie halls which is otherwise reserved for gods inside the temple. It has been an embarrassment to the cultured, civilized and intellectual population of the state.
Scarcity of Choice
While Jayalalithaa often rules like an authoritarian despotic dictator, her counterpart Karunanidhi promotes political dynasty along the lines of Nehru-Gandhi family. Both of them are certain to make it to the top 10 most corrupt politicians in the country. While the former is tantalizingly inaccessible and self-obsessed as her close aides Sasikala and Ilavarasi loot the state, the latter and his family has been part of one of the biggest scams the country has ever seen in the name of 2G. Thus, a wafer thin difference lies in the ideologies of both the parties.
Now that the elections are around the corner, the people are already perturbed over choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea (demon). After all, the Dravidian Political landscapes are two sides of the same coin. Of course the people of the state deserve a better choice.