With the upcoming bypolls in Tamil Nadu, a lot needs to be done by the new CM to retain the majority
It’s been over a month since the power centre in Tamil Nadu shifted from Poes Garden to Greenways Road in Chennai. The thirteenth chief minister of the state, Edappadi K Palanisami, is taking baby steps to bring about a change in the state which has been battling political uncertainty for the past few months.
Senior bureaucrats in the Tamil Nadu government tell Governance Now that there is a sense of comfort in dealing with the current chief minister, as he is more accessible. Decision-making is quick now, says a senior officer.
Concurring with this claim are the special security guards deployed at the CM’s office and residence. They all agree that the current CM is certainly more accessible than the previous ones. The same guards were in service during the tenure of J Jayalalithaa and O Panneerselvam.
Under the new CM, bureaucrats and ministers have started talking to the media – something which was not promoted during Jayalalithaa’s time.
People at the secretariat feel that now the chief secretary, Girija Vaidyanathan, has a better say in day-to-day administration of the state.
A loyalist of Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK, Palanisami is now Sasikala’s loyalist too. He has been elected four times from the Edappadi assembly constituency. People close to him say that he is friendly among his colleagues. Some MLA’s says that he is not a domineering figure, and this helps in keeping them together.
Comparing party rebel O Panneerselvam with Palanisami, an AIADMK MLA says that OPS was accepted only among a group of MLAs and not by all his cabinet colleagues. “OPS tried to assert himself on a certain set of people,” he adds. Palanisami, on the other hand, spends more time in office consulting officers.
But a small shop near the CM’s residence offers a different political landscape. “People have started living without any expectation from the government. In one month’s time I don’t see any significant change. The government is not doing much for the people. The state machinery is now busy with the upcoming RK Nagar byelection [scheduled in April],” says Senthil, a fruit-seller.
In fact many believe that the current chief minister is just trying to extend the legacy of the late CM Jayalalithaa. Political commentator Peer Mohammed says: “Palanisami-led government knew they don’t have anything to boast. The same promises, which were made by Jayalalithaa and which got the party the mandate, have been announced again by Palanisami as welfare measures. In Jayalalithaa’s absence the only way in which they can take the government forward is just by sustaining her legacy. The first five signatures [decisions] by Palanisami are the ones promised by Jayalalithaa in 2016 assembly election manifesto.”
The first was closure of 500 state-run Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) liquor shops. If one may recall, Jayalalithaa had taken a similar step on the very day she assumed office after winning 2016 assembly elections. Palanisami too ordered closure of 500 liquor shops on the day he took charge.
The second was to increase the maternity support to women from Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000. The Amma two-wheeler scheme, under which working women get 50 percent subsidy with an upper ceiling of Rs 20,000 to purchase a scooter, was promised again by the new CM.
A special housing scheme worth Rs 85 crore, under which 5,000 houses would be constructed for fishermen, was announced by the CM – the same old wine in new bottle.
Lastly, the increase in the monthly assistance to the unemployed youth, from Rs 150 to Rs 300 for class 10th pass, from Rs 200 to Rs 400 for class 12th pass, and from Rs 300 to Rs 600 for graduates, was pledged once more.
“It looks like they want to give a perception that now the government is functioning freely, not being controlled or influenced. They are trying to create an image of the government being independent of Sasikala as initially it was perceived that every step was controlled by her,” says Mohammed.
Despite being in jail, Sasikala is still AIADMK’s general secretary and wields power. But the party is worried about the general perception of public and a lot of decentralisation has happened recently. Moreover, with the upcoming RK Nagar bypolls and local body election, the party is more cautious.
Sources say that the Palanisami team is also trying to reach out to the rebel AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam or the OPS team. Even the day on which the state budget was presented finance minister D Jayakumar was seen requesting old timers to come back. He asked the “brothers” to come back, the sources add.
As far as Mannargudi gang is concerned, things are managed in such a way that they don’t overtly control the appointment of officers. Sasikala and her immediate and extended family members are referred as Mannargudi gang.
In fact it is being said that until the local body elections and RK Nagar bypolls are over they will not interfere in a big way. They are keeping a low profile or else it might become difficult for them to win the polls.
According to a party insider, Sasikala’s husband M Natarajan has been out of consultation circles for quite some time now. This means the family is out of decision-making process, except for Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran. As party’s deputy general secretary, Dinakaran is responsible for running the party in Sasikala’s absence. He is also representing AIADMK in RK Nagar bypolls.
As of now the Sasikala gang is playing safe, as they have already burnt their fingers while dealing with OPS, says a city-based political commentator. “They won’t disturb Palanisami, but at the same time they won’t allow him to settle down,” he adds. The problem may not come now but in future, and that too from Sasikala’s family. “At present, Palanisami is dancing to the tunes of Dinakaran. But people like Natarajan won’t keep quiet for long. Once they try to take their pound of flesh then only the climax will unfold,” he says.