Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goodbye and good riddance! People in Tamil Nadu want a clean government




Years ago, when M.G. Ramachandran, after the death of Annadurai, alleged that corruption had entered the party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and wanted financial details to be made public, he was expelled. He then went on form the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which later became the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Once he became chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977, there was no dislodging him – for ten years he ruled, till his death in 1987. He faced no anti-incumbency factor, a pet phrase of politicians today to explain defeat. So, MGR must have done something right to be voted to power again and again – the nutritious mid-day meal scheme was his brainchild, and he also focused on giving children education. He was said to be a good man who had the welfare of his subjects at heart. Of course, in those days, the word ‘scam’ did not exist. Bofors had not then arrived.

In more recent years, voters in Tamil Nadu have booted out the two main political parties once every five years. This time, there is a lot more than the anti-incumbency factor that played a part. If MGR had alleged corruption in the DMK then, today, thanks to the 2G Spectrum scam, the Nira Radia tapes, and the media, especially the top-draw television channels, hell-bent on unearthing corrupt practices and bringing it to the public eye during prime time night after night, the public perceived the DMK rule and the rulers to be knee-deep in corruption. The money in question: hundreds and thousands of crores. Perhaps a lot of it was grapevine, gossip, hyperbole, call it what you want, but the public perception was that there was one family, the ruling family, that was amassing wealth beyond comprehension. Since the matter lies in the courts, it is improper to pass judgment, but suffice to say that public perception plays a major role in electing and removing governments.

Sadly, and this is not just about Tamil Nadu but about almost in every state in India, corruption reigns supreme. And common folks like us ask all the time: how do we weed out corruption. A question a bank officer asked me yesterday when I had gone to the bank to update my passbook. Old buildings in the area where I stay are getting demolished, and new multi-storey apartments will soon come in their place. But families are having to bribe officers and staff in various government departments, from electricity, to water and sewerage, to telephones, to get documents transferred. Builders openly say in private that they have to pay money to get papers and files moving in the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, for instance. Not small amounts – sizeable figures that are available on the tariff, And without doing so, clearances will just not come. I’ve also heard people say that under this government nothing works even if you pay bribes, but under the other government, you can rest assured that your work will get done. Sometimes, I wonder how all people know s much about what really happens.

Well, if M. Karunanidhi had a dream of his party getting re-elected again and to pass on the mantle to his sons, he’s received a rude jolt. At 86, there’s little chance of him gracing the corridors of power again. And judging by the blow the party has received, it is anybody’s guess as to whether the knives will indeed come out once the dust settles and it is serious introspection time. Will the party be able to hold together after all – we will have to wait and see in the days ahead. It’ll be an interesting wait.

Equally interesting will be Jayalalithaa’s initial performance. Pictures of the nocturnal police raid on Karunanidhi’s family, the screams and moans, are still vivid. But time (the time out of power) must surely have taught her a lesson. She is unlikely to be as adventurous this time; but if early indications are anything to go by, she will be firm and will do all she can to expose the misdemeanors of the previous regime. Already, word has gone out that the state is bankrupt. As always, there will be a honeymoon period, but it will not last long. She will, more importantly, have to focus on larger public issues – clean drinking water, good roads, employment, education, electricity, maternal and child health – issues that still plague even developed states such as Tamil Nadu decades after Independence.

The voting back to power of the AIADMK with such a massive majority is the people’s way of saying they want less corruption (you can’t think of a corruption-less state now, can you?) and less masquerading of family power. It’s now up to Jayalalithaa and her new team to deliver. I heard somebody summarize the DMK defeat as “caught Kani, bowled Raja”. A smart cricketing metaphor, if any were needed. But the message is that the people of the state now want a clean and efficient government. And if there’s no vindictive action, they’ll be happy they engineered the change. With age on her side, this is Jayalalithaa’s best chance to prove her critics wrong and aim for an innings as long as her mentor’s, a mentor who almost made her his political heir. After all, voters in Tamil Nadu are so generous - you just have to wait five years. Look at West Bengal - 34 years, and you might have almost lived your life!

Hoardings and pictures of Jayalalithaa dot the Chennai landscape; here are a few near Annadurai’s statue, on Mount Road. AIADMK flags greet motorists on the Gemini Bridge.

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