As Stalin sets out to take charge of Tamil Nadu, many challenges loom ahead
- The 68-year-old chief minister-elect for Tamil Nadu is ready to take on the new role at a time when the state is fighting the Covid-19 surge, debt and many more challenges.
After a decade in opposition and the shadows of his father and five-time chief minister late M Karunanidhi, the big moment for Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief MK Stalin finally arrived on Sunday as the DMK-led alliance won 159 seats out of 294 in the Tamil Nadu assembly polls.
While Stalin had led the party to a sweeping victory in the 2019 parliamentary elections, by winning 38 out of 39 seats, this year’s assembly election was a crucial test for his leadership as well as the future of his party.
The 68-year-old chief minister-elect for Tamil Nadu is ready to take on the new role at a time when the state is fighting the Covid-19 surge, debt and many more challenges.
Here is taking a look at five challenges that the Stalin-led government would have to immediately deal with after assuming charge.
The current state government’s efforts to keep the pandemic under check was one of the major poll campaign highlights of outgoing chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s AIADMK and their ally BJP. While they were knee jerk reactions, Palaniswami came on his own when the state, like others, was hit by the virus. Tamil Nadu set a benchmark in conducting the highest number (2,29,56,942) of RT-PCR tests in the country and setting a low mortality rate of 1.19% as compared to Maharashtra's 1.49% and Delhi's 1.42%. An efficient health system that worked last year was introduced once again.
Stalin will have to face a second wave that is more virulent. Hospitals are filling fast and health workers are overworked. The active caseload in the state is now twice as compared to last year and the same is thrice the number in Chennai, the state’s hotspot. The new political appointees will have to ensure a smooth functioning with the bureaucratic arm of the state which has tackled the virus all this while. There is also a massive vaccination program awaiting the state as it doesn’t have adequate supply to inoculate the population above 18 years of age.
A huge financial burden is awaiting the new government. In February, the AIADMK-led government presented a revenue deficit interim budget. The state’s debt stood at ₹4.87 lakh crore as of March 31, 2020, which was likely to go up to ₹5.7 lakh crore amid the pandemic situation. The state’s tax collection also remained low since 2016 amidst the overall economic decline, demonetisation and introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The state has also complained of not receiving its due share as devolution from the central taxes and cesses and surcharges were not forming a part of the divisible pool of taxes.
In its election manifesto, the DMK had said, “The incompetent AIADMK-led government has increased Tamil Nadu’s outstanding debt to about 9 lakh crores, thus resulting in every newborn carrying a debt of 1.25 lakh rupees. To make the necessary intervention and to advise the government on suitable action plans, a high-level expert committee shall be constituted.”
The DMK has promised a universal basic income of ₹1,000 for women heads of households, waive off education loans of students aged below 30 years, provide free tablets with data to school and college government students and a payout of ₹1,500 to 32 lakh widowed women, all single women above 50 years of age, differently-abled and Sri Lankan refugees.
The new government will have to spend higher on healthcare, reboot the economy while also keeping several of its election promises, which may cause a huge burden on the exchequer.
Providing more job opportunities to youngsters and women has been an election promise of the DMK as the unorganised sector has been most hit by the pandemic and lockdown-like restrictions. The party had also assured to pass legislation to reserve 75% of jobs for the locals. It set a goal of providing 10 lakh jobs each year and 50 lakh jobs to youngsters by the end of 2025-26. It promised to bring in more industries and increase the number of working days under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) from 100 to 150 days.
The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed schools and colleges to conduct online classes and reduce the curriculum, affecting students’ learning. According to the Annual Status of Education Report released in October 2020, at least a quarter of students in Tamil Nadu was not involved in any learning activity during the entire week of the survey period.
The state government had earned the criticism of educationists as well as the Madras high court over its order to cancel arrear exams in arts and science colleges and declare students as “all-pass”. The new government will require an expert committee to help address the setback for students in the past year and discuss the way forward.
The state’s relationship with the Centre will play a critical role for the new government keeping in mind that Stalin has remained on a head-on collision with the AIADMK-BJP combine. While the DMK chief has promised to retrieve the state’s rights and autonomy, it remains to be seen how he intends to negotiate via requests and tackle troubles with the BJP-led Centre.