Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoles O Panneerselvam after paying his last respects to Tamil Nadu's former chief minister J Jayalalithaa at Rajaji Hall in Chennai on December 6, 2016.(PTI File Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoles O Panneerselvam after paying his last respects to Tamil Nadu's former chief minister J Jayalalithaa at Rajaji Hall in Chennai on December 6, 2016.(PTI File Photo)

Is Centre remote-controlling Tamil Nadu? | Analysis

The BJP-led NDA government at the Centre is being shrilly accused of taking advantage of a weak government in Tamil Nadu to call the shots and destroy federalism in the process.
Grist Media | By Sandhya Ravishankar
UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2017 04:30 PM IST

Protest meetings and beef feasts have begun across Tamil Nadu, with Muslim groups, a section of IIT Madras students, as well as the Dravidar Kazhagam, the mother organisation of the DMK are on the warpath against Centre’s ordinance regulating sale of cattle at animal markets.

Many see the move as an indirect ban on beef.

Strangely enough, there has been no word on the issue from chief minister Edappadi Palanisamy, though his predecessor O Panneerselvam issued a statement asking Prime Minister Modi to repeal the ban.

While it is not surprising for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress to protest the ordinance, Panneerselvam’s statement raised quite a few eyebrows.

The beef raw is not the only issue on which the state’s ruling dispensation is avoiding to be seen on the wrong side of the Union government that has been accused of taking advantage of a weak government in Tamil Nadu to call the shots, destroying country’s federal structure.

On May 28, in a move described by political experts as ‘gubernatorial over-reach’, state’s governor-in-charge C Vidyasagar Rao appointed retired Justice Lodha to oversee the search committee in charge of appointing vice-chancellors of various universities.

Vice-chancellor posts of various universities have been vacant, with the governor, who is the chancellor of all state-run universities, rejecting all candidates suggested by search committees for over a year.

Then the state government, on Rao’s orders, hurriedly passed an ordinance, altering the search panel’s formation itself.

Rao had also come under flak in February when he didn’t swear Sasikala in for 10 days as chief minister, despite she being elected as leader of the legislature party of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

On December 21, a few days after former chief minister J Jayalalithaa died on December 5, 2016, the IT department conducted raids on then chief secretary Ramamohana Rao’s residence, as well as his office, accompanied by armed CRPF personnel.

Then chief minister Panneerselvam didn’t protest. The raids were in connection with the arrest of Shekhar Reddy, a sand mining baron in TN, who allegedly funnelled money through the companies owned by chief secretary’s son.

Rao was removed as chief secretary and kept on waitlist till Girija Vaidyanathan took over.

Capitulation Begins

In the wake of a series of raids by the IT Department and CBI on ministers, their friends and aides amid reports of large-scale voter bribing by the ruling party ahead of the now stalled bypoll for Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar seat, the EPS-led AIADMK (Amma) took the conscious decision not to rub the Centre on the wrong side.

According to the plan there should be no criticism of the Centre, only mild lip-service of opposition to NEET. It also decided not to push the Centre much for drought funds.

To please the Centre, on May 5, an unprecedented circular was issued instructing all district officers of department of information and public relations to identify and compile ‘success stories’ of various Central government schemes in the state.

The state government also planned to celebrate completion of three years of the BJP-led central government.

At the inauguration of the Chennai Metro rail’s second phase on May 14, the Centre flexed its muscle with Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu saying, “... we will be giving all co-operation. My co-operation depends on your operation... otherwise there is a separation…so please join together.” Although, he quickly followed it with a rider saying “I do not want to talk politics”, he had already said too much.

This caused a furore within political circles, who were already fuming at what they saw as the Centre’s intrusion in governance and government in TN.

DMK’s working president MK Stalin and state Congress chief S Thirunavukkarasar slammed Naidu’s remarks, calling the state government a “puppet” in Centre’s hands.

That Naidu had also reviewed Metro rail related files after the event, caused more consternation.

“This is dangerous,” said TKS Elangovan, DMK spokesperson and RajyaSabha MP, to HT. “A minister of the Union government sits in the secretariat to review files, even issues a threat to the state government that the Union government is in command. This government is going against all Constitutional norms,” he charged.

Political analysts agree. “After Jayalalithaa’s death, the Centre is interfering in every issue,” said Aazhi Senthilnathan. “The Constitution provides certain rights to the states and the Centre. Strangely, the BJP is disturbing the state government even though it is not going to be politically benefitted. If elections are held it is the DMK that will gain the most, not the BJP,” he explained.

“The Centre is infringing on the rights of every state. On one side, Modi talks about co-operative federalism, on the other the Union government wants to convert states into a ‘unitary’ government by decimating their rights,” he said.

Meanwhile, BJP’s ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was accorded permission for the first time in 16 years to carry out a route march in Chennai. It also held, for the first time, its national conclave in Coimbatore in TN where top RSS and BJP leaders and union ministers attended.

AIADMK (Amma) rubbishes allegations of it being BJP’s B-team.

The ruling AIADMK (Amma) rubbishes the allegations levelled at them by rival parties, insisting that they are not BJP’s “B-Team”.

“The AIADMK [Amma] is not supporting the BJP and that is why our leaders are in jail and facing false cases,”said Avadi Kumar, a spokesperson of the AIADMK (Amma). “The BJP leaders in TN are openly saying that their aim is to finish off the AIADMK. We will fight it legally.”

But at the same breath he added, “Just because there are political differences, the people of TN should not suffer. We need the Centre’s support to resolve issues and therefore our relations with it must be good. We are adjusting so that the state is not affected.”

The BJP’s Stand

To round it all, the BJP too denies that it’s remote-controlling a weak state government, dangling the sword of IT raids over ministers. “Nowadays, it has become a custom to criticise the BJP for everything,” said Tamilisai Soundararajan, state party president. “Those who are leveling such charges are in jittery. They think somehow BJP will come to power. As a party, we do not want to destabilise any government,”she said.

On the warning issued by Naidu, Soundararajan says the Union minister had made the comment in a lighter vein.

Doubts Continue

But opposition and critics aren’t convinced. “Most of the ministers are under CBI and IT Department scanner so they are afraid,” said DMK MP TKS Elangovan. “There is no government or administration in TN at present. So the Centre is taking command.”

Political analyst Aazhi Senthilnathan said: “The Centre wants to turn the states into colonies. A state is a constitutional body, not an administrative unit….. Tamil Nadu is one of the best states in the country in terms of governance. If they are trying to topple the government, consequences will be immense and terrifying,” he cautioned.

(Published in arrangement with GRIST Media)

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