The state faces serious issues, but leaders are more keen unveiling Jayalalithaa’s portraits and building statues for her in each district
For a little over 25 years, Tamil Nadu has been known for political stability and peace. The state, quietly, without fanfare, has become one of the top ranked in the country on various parameters. However, now there is genuine worry that the ongoing political drama might cause a lot of damage to much of the progress of two decades.
The soap opera that began two months after the death of its popular chief minister J Jayalalithaa is not showing any signs of coming to a close. There was much admiration when her number two in the Cabinet, O Panneerselvam, took over as chief minister the very night she passed away. The transition appeared smooth and Panneerselvam—who had already stepped in for Jayalalithaa twice and was the caretaker chief minister when she fell ill—seemed like a good choice who took his responsibilities seriously in a low-key manner. He was accessible, took decisions, handled various problems such as the Cyclone Vardah, water crisis, student protest over Jallikattu and others. When Jayalalithaa was hospitalised, Tamil Nadu, which was opposing several long-pending issues such as GST, the Food Security Act, and joining the power utility turnaround scheme UDAY, got them resolved.
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All was seemingly well until Jayalalithaa’s companion of 33 years, VK Sasikala—a shadowy figure—decided to anoint herself as the general secretary of the AIADMK party and also as the chief minister after Panneerselvam tendered his resignation for the umpteenth time. Then the theatre of the absurd began, with Panneerselvam rebelling, Sasikala shepherding party MLAs to a resort close to Chennai, the Governor being circumspect, Sasikala getting convicted in the 21-year-old disproportionate assets case, appointing Edappadi K Palanisamy in her place, and the caged MLAs agreeing to everything. There are no signs of the drama ending, as of now.
The leadership vacuum is not going to help the state. There are many issues which have to be addressed urgently. The state has been hurtling from crisis to crisis, starting from the unprecedented floods of 2016 which submerged the capital city Chennai. From abundance of water, Chennai is now staring at a drinking water scarcity. No one anticipated that Chennai would dry up so soon. Governance and administrative decisions have slowed down considerably since the time Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. The state had been topping the ranks in both the parameters. There has been no one to set any direction.
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There is a major concern that big-ticket investments have not been coming to the state any longer. Neighbours Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are going all out to woo investors. For several years, Tamil Nadu has been one of the fastest growing states in the country. Its gross state domestic product during 2015-16 was estimated at 8.79%, as against the all-India average growth rate of 7.57%. Unless Tamil Nadu keeps up its growth rate, it will not be able to sustain the many welfare schemes which have made the Dravidian parties retain their popularity. Both the former chief ministers, DMK’s Karunanidhi and AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa, understood this in spite of various corruption charges. Nor can it provide jobs.
Tamil Nadu may be only now catching up on the start-up scene, but it has been the state with the largest number of medium- and small-scale industries. There are, at the last count, around 13 lakh of them, and they have all been under trouble since the floods. Many of them were not even insured. Just when they were recovering, they have had to face the double whammy of demonetisation and the drought in the state. The slowing down of the economy and the exports also hit them. “The Budget has not said a word about GST, solar energy and tax relief for the MSME sector,” grumbles a small-scale unit owner.
Tamil Nadu has to look seriously at rapidly falling education standards. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) conducts classroom tests every three years for students in grades third, fifth, eighth and tenth in all the states and Union territories. According to its report published on Scroll.in, its assessment of India’s tenth standard students in 2015 placed Tamil Nadu’s students close to the bottom in every subject. NCERT’s report card for Tamil Nadu read: “The average performance of students in the state was significantly lower than the national average in all five subjects—English, Mathematics, Science, Social Science and Modern Indian Language (Tamil).” Government schools fare particularly badly.
Watch This Viral Video Of Sasikala
The three premier universities in the state—University of Madras, Anna University and Madurai Kamaraj University—have been functioning without a vice-chancellor for several months. Tamil Nadu has more than 600 engineering colleges, but many of the graduates they produce are not employable. Many computer engineers are not able to write programs. This is worrisome for a state which took pride in providing engineers for IT and auto engineers, not only for the state, but also for the rest of the country.
An immediate problem staring at Tamil Nadu is the drought situation. With the failure of the Northeast monsoon, it has been declared that this is the second worst drought faced by the state in 100 years. It is reported that 17 farmers have already committed suicide. The administration has to coordinate with the Centre as huge funds are required to tackle the drought at various levels. There are huge environmental issues such as cleaning up the recent oil spillage. The government came under a lot of criticism as the administration did not tackle this disaster fast enough. Water bodies have to revived and pollution levels brought down at various industrial clusters.
These are just some of the issues to be tackled. However, prospective leaders have been more keen unveiling Jayalalithaa’s portraits and building statues for her in each district.