Why, for want of a leader, Tamil Nadu growth potential could be lost

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Published: October 24, 2017 6:46:23 AM

Small- and medium-scale industries that play a major role in the Tamil Nadu economy have been suffering from the time of the floods. The IT sector has not been providing as many jobs as it used to.

Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu growth, Effective governance, J Jayalalithaa, O Panneerselvam, TTV Dhinakaran, AIADMK factions, Sasikala Natarajan, Dhinakaran, M K StalinAlthough O Panneerselvam was sworn in as the CM, the only thing he effectively did was to shed copious tears at every given opportunity. (Image: PTI)

Tamil Nadu, that emerged as one of the most dynamic and fast-growing states in the country in the last decade—keeping pace with Gujarat—is beginning to lose some of its sheen. Effective governance has been in a limbo ever since the former chief minister J Jayalalithaa was sentenced in the disproportionate assets case in September 2014 . There was a vacuum in the administration during the months she was in prison. Although O Panneerselvam was sworn in as the CM, the only thing he effectively did was to shed copious tears at every given opportunity. When she came out on bail in October, and was sworn in again as the CM, she became a virtual recluse and her concentration was more on her legal issues. Her government did not cover itself with glory and was known more for its ineptitude during the Chennai floods of 2015.

Contrary to popular expectations, Jayalalithaa won the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 2016, becoming the chief minister for the second consecutive term. However, she did not keep good health and passed away unexpectedly in December last year. Tamil Nadu politics has plunged into chaos and confusion ever since. The state has always had strong leaders at the helm for decades. Jayalalithaa exercised total control on her partly and ruled the state with an iron hand. She always fought for state-rights and focussed on welfare measures. But, following her death, the AIADMK factions (barring Jayalalithaa-aide Sasikala Natarajan’s nephew, TTV Dhinakaran) have meekly caved in front of the Union government on many policy issues such as GST, the NEET examinations, etc

After a long-drawn battle, there are now only two main factions in the AIADMK: one led jointly by chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and former chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS), and the other by Dhinakaran. EPS and OPS were brought together after several meetings with prime minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This did not mean that everything was going to be smooth. Dhinakaran, who was appointed deputy general secretary of the party on the eve of general secretary Sasikala going to jail after the Supreme Court judgement on the disproportionate assets case, has been asserting himself constantly. Dhinakaran claims he is going to be the saviour of the party which has a cadre strength of 1.75 crore. No decision has been announced yet on which faction will get the party symbol.

The political drama continues on many fronts. The main opposition party—the DMK, under M K Stalin—has been waiting for the AIADMK to implode. That is not happening because of the powerful backing from the Centre. The BJP is tightening its grip on the ruling AIADMK faction. However, the state BJP leaders are constantly backing irrelevant causes, alienating the locals. In September, the DMK moved the court to order the government to seek a floor test in the Assembly. On September 14, the Madras High Court decided that there was no urgency to hold a floor test. No partly appears seriously ready for the test.

The various agitations by farmers, residents opposing development projects, and the NEET have not been dealt with any serious application of mind but curbed with a heavy hand. A young girl committing suicide because she did not get a medical seat due to low score in NEET brought students out on the road. Disgruntled elements jump into every agitation. There is resentment on many fronts.

The state recorded the lowest growth in the manufacturing sector in FY17, a mere 1.65% over last year, according to the data released by RBI. Neighbouring Andhra Pradesh recorded 10.36% and Telangana 7.1% in the same period. Between FY15 and FY16, Tamil Nadu registered a growth of 7.11% in manufacturing. The slow growth might reflect the general slowdown in the economy. But that does not seem to affect the people rushing to Andhra and Telangana. HCL, which has its largest development centre in Chennai , is expanding in a big way in Vijayawada (Telangana)~although it is putting up a smaller centre in Madurai (Tamil Nadu) as well. Andhra and Telangana have been far more welcoming of domestic and foreign investment than Tamil Nadu. The political instability in the state is putting off potential investors.

The manufacturing slowdown has had its impact on industries such as construction, a major job-provider. The non-availability of sand due to various scams and increasing input prices has led to lack of demand. “Tamil Nadu has been dealt many blows. Even before the city and the outskirts could recover from the floods, it had to come to terms with the death of a popular and strong CM, a devastating cyclone and demonetisation. The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, RERA was passed at the same time. It is a good act but there are just too many changes happening at the same time,” say construction industry sources.

Small- and medium-scale industries that play a major role in the Tamil Nadu economy have been suffering from the time of the floods. The IT sector has not been providing as many jobs as it used to. Industrial clusters like Sivakasi, the country’s largest manufacturer of fireworks, have been battered on many fronts. Nobody quite understands the government’s hostile attitude towards the film industry, another major job-provider.

The much-touted freebie culture is taking a backseat as well. The election promise of giving free smart phones and Rs 25,000 subsidy for scooties for women has faded from everybody’s memory. The state is seriously cash-strapped with various payments being held up for long periods. A stable decisive administration does not appear anywhere in sight in the near future.

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