A New, Forgiving Amma

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Jayalalithaa focuses on development, casting aside (for now) the vendetta politics that plagues Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI ~ The fireworks that exploded in Chennai after J Jayalalithaa won a landslide victory on 13 May were by no means going to end with just the crackers. It only signalled the beginning of another kind of fireworks display—that of tearing into her DMK rivals, undoing what she labelled as waste and putting them where they belong as she said: in jail. But, once the noise died down and the new Chief Minister settled down, vendetta politics seems to have taken a back seat with the emphaisis being on ‘development’.

Has she turned over a new leaf and forgiven her arch rival, the octogenarian DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi? Well, not really. She has only mellowed her approach somewhat as she has realised that her party was brought back to power as people were fed up with the DMK’s style of functioning, says a political analyst.

So instead of putting the police on the tail of her predecessors, she has begun systematically undoing what her predecessor did. But, more striking is the fact that she has already reshuffled her cabinet 14 times in the first 45 days in office.

On her first trip to New Delhi after taking over as Chief Minister, she managed to ruffle a few feathers, notably asking Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to step down, citing his alleged “fraudulent victory” in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Despite all this, she was given a warm welcome by the Prime Minister.  But, she isn’t quite the flavour of the season yet, and might not replace the DMK as the Congress’ southern ally. Possibly understandably so, given that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu and Left leaders were seen at her swearing-in.

She doesn’t seem too keen to impress Delhi either, given that she made the point that the Centre took a unilateral decision in ceding Katchathivu island to Sri Lanka. This has now backfired, as Tamil Nadu fishermen are not being allowed to fish in those waters. The island’s maritime zone has become a bone of contention as a result of several attacks on fisherman by their Lankan counterparts, with the active involvement of Lanka’s navy.

Back in Tamil Nadu, she has already set high standards of accountability among her party leaders to bring in what she calls good governance and transparency. In a period of six-odd weeks, she has already shifted or removed 14 ministers based on their weekly performance reviews. The latest to get the axe was a minister with alleged DMK links. The CM got a whiff that his allegiance may lie elsewhere from her intelligence department, and promptly sacked him. But, sacking ministers swiftly is not new to Jayalalithaa. In her previous tenure beginning 2001, she had executed reshuffles more than a dozen times; some dropped ministers were reinducted later.

Undoing what the previous DMK regime did is a favourite pastime, but this time it looks like the Chief Minister is putting vendetta politics aside. “The DMK is falling on its own. We will wait and watch. Unless required, we will not interfere,’’ says a senior party leader. AIADMK sources say their leader was very happy that Dayanidhi Maran was forced to resign last week, the third DMK casualty in the 2G scam after A Raja, and the patriarch’s daughter, MK Kanimozhi.

However, Jayalalithaa must have succeeded in ruining the former CM’s low-key 88th birthday celebrations by scrapping many of his pet projects, especially her announcement that a commission of inquiry would be set up to look into alleged irregularities in the construction of the new Assembly-Secretariat complex. Unveiling the policies of her government, Governor SS Barnala announced that construction of the new complex would be stopped, and a commission of inquiry (headed by a retired judge) would be set up to look into alleged misdoings.

The new Assembly-Secretariat complex was a pet project of Karunanidhi. Jayalalithaa, too, had attempted to build a new Assembly complex earlier, but her plans did not come to fruition either. When the new complex was inaugurated, Jayalalithaa criticised the structure for lacking in aesthetic appeal and resembling a “circus tent”,  and dramatically vowed to rule from the 17th century Fort St George instead.

She has also decided to revive the Arasu Cable TV Corporation (ACTC) formed by her predecessor to end the monopoly of the Sun TV group, owned by the DMK’s Marans. The government wants to nationalise cable TV operations, without affecting the interests of local cable operators.

ACTC was formed by the Karunanidhi government when a feud broke out between his family and that of his grandnephews, the Marans, in 2007. The government’s idea then was to end the monopoly of Sun TV. The plan was shelved when the families patched up.

The other DMK projects that got the axe are the Health Insurance Housing Schemes named after Kalaignar (‘artiste’ as Karunanidhi is called) apart from some colour TV schemes.