As a caretaker chief minister, O Panneerselvam never sat on the chair of chief minister J Jayalalithaa. But Edapaddi Palaniswami who won the trust vote on Saturday, had no such qualms as he occupied the chief minister’s chambers on Monday and announced a slew of decisions to carry forward the late leader’s legacy.
His first task as chief minister was to sign five files, each launching a welfare measure promised by Jayalalithaa in the AIADMK election manifesto for 2016 general elections in Tamil Nadu. Among them was an order to shut down 500 government –run wine shops.
This is the second installment of closure of government-owned liquor outlets run by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation after Jayalalithaa issued the first closure order following her re-election May 2016. Jayalalithaa took that decision on May 24 last year when she was sworn in as chief minister for a second consecutive term.
But Palaniswami insisted that his most important of the five orders was the one about drought relief for farmers who are reeling under the worst drought in the state in over a century.
“My first priority is drought relief. The assistance will be reached to the farmers at the earliest,” Palaniswami said, briefing media persons on his first working day as the new chief minister.
Then, came the populist programmes from the new chief minister, widely perceived as a proxy for convicted AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala. With these, he began delivering the poll promises Jayalaithaa had made. The most attractive of the lot was Jayalalithaa’s promise to that the government would pay half the price of two wheelers for every such vehicle bought by working women.
Palaniswami announced subsidy for two-wheelers for one lakh working women by which the government would foot half the bill of a two-wheeler, subject to a maximum of Rs 25000 for each such woman. The two-wheeler scheme would cost the state exchequer Rs 200 crore per annum.
“I am following Amma’s policies,” he told media persons inside the CM chambers.
But Palaniswami sidestepped questions from reporters and stuck to the prepared theme of populism, saying that “all details you are seeking are in the press release”.
The chief minister also said he signed orders for increasing financial assistance to pregnant women from Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000. The scheme is designed to benefit 600,000 pregnant women at an outlay of Rs 360 crore per annum.
Other goodies included doubling the monthly allowance to unemployed youth - Rs 200 per month for those who studied up to 10th standard, Rs.300 for those passed 10th standard, Rs 400 for those who did not clear 12th standard and Rs 600 for graduates and post graduates. The additional outgo for the state will be Rs 31 crore per year on account of this dole.
Palaniswami also gave clearance to build 5,000 houses for fishermen at a cost of Rs 85 crore per annum.
Analysts see the populist schemes as continuation of Jayalaithaa’s welfare programmes as a message to the people that nothing has changed and that their interests would be best looked after by the government.
“How far the people, at present angry with the present dispensation, would accept the change, only time will tell,” said Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University.