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Is Modi being considerate to Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa?

June 19, 2014 17:30 IST

It appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being very responsive to Jayalalithaa’s demands, be it on the secure release of the abducted Tamil Nadu priest to the fishermen’s issue with Sri Lanka, observes N Sathiya Moorthy. 

In his well-received response to the debate on President Pranab Mukherjee’s maiden address to the Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated his post-poll call for forgetting campaign-time rhetoric in favour of consensus politics. He said that politics can take over in the fifth, the poll year, but in the previous four years all political parties should work together for the development of the nation.

It cannot be assumed that PM Modi was responding to Tamil Nadu’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa who had earlier begun shooting off missive after missive to him on issues of concern to her state. She used to do so with Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh, which was again not wholly unwelcome or improper.

What exactly was not considered proper was the state releasing those missives to the local media even before ink on the faxed copy to the PM had dried.

It is one thing for the state government to take its people into confidence on serious and sensitive issues, and also on its efforts to address the same -- where needed, through the Centre.

It’s another for state governments to release the entire text of such official/semi-official correspondence with the PM of the country on a regular basis.

Abduction in Afghanistan

Tamil Nadu under Jayalalithaa has been taking the second route ever since she and her party, the AIADMK, returned to power in 2011. On the recent issue about the Taliban abducting a Tamil Nadu priest, Father Alexis Prem Kumar, in Afghanistan, PM Modi responded promptly to CM Jaya, promising his safe release.

Prior to him, PM Manmohan Singh too was believed to have responded to the Tamil Nadu CM, at times reportedly in candid terms.

However, the Singh government did not give any publicity whatsoever to the PM’s response to Jayalalithaa’s concerns, many of them on the fishermen’s issue with Sri Lanka, the ethnic issue in that country, the Cauvery and Mullaperiyar water rows, respectively with neighbouring Karnataka and Kerala.

The state did not ever publish/publicise any of the responses of the PM of the day, as it has now done with Modi’s reply to Jaya’s missive on the abducted priest.

If it had given rise to the impression in the state that Jayalalithaa was right in saying that Singh’s government and the Congress leadership of the ruling United Progressive Alliance at the Centre at the time were not at all responsive to the concerns of Tamil Nadu-- and Tamils, not necessarily in that order -- it was only to be expected.

In turn, it had also contributed to the Tamils and Tamil Nadu feeling neglected and slighted. Whether this contributed to the poor showing of the Congress (four per cent vote-share) in the parliamentary polls is unclear as yet.

Targeting the ‘Gujarat model’?

Participating in the Lok Sabha debate on the President’s address, AIADMK’s parliamentary group leader M Thambidurai made two main points.  One was that the AIADMK’s sweeping success in the state was not owed to any ‘model’ but to the anti-corruption campaign launched by Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu since the past few years.

The AIADMK leader did not name any state, but that he was referring to the ‘Gujarat model’ under Modi’s chief ministership did not have to be mentioned specifically. Thambidurai also referred to the pending investigations/court cases against former Dravida Munnetra Kazagham ministers at the Centre and former members of Parliament, in the 2G scam case and the like.

In his reply to the debate, PM Modi seemed to have addressed the two points, but in different ways and tones, it would seem. On the ‘development model’ issue, PM Modi said without taking any names whatsoever that healthy competition between states was welcomed.

On speedy trials, the PM said the courts would be approached to finish off pending cases against MPs within a year.

This one in particular could cut both ways. If the courts were to extend the PM’s observation on pending court cases against MPs to ministers and chief ministers, Jayalalithaa’s may be the first ones to be fast-tracked without further adjournments.

Jayalalithaa has been facing court cases dating back to her first term in office (1991-96) in trial courts in Chennai and Bengaluru. From time to time, judges of the Supreme Court have observed that they could not grant any adjournment. They have given specific time-frames for concluding the trial, too.

However, from time to time, the SC too has granted stay, based on new interlocutory petitions, either from Jayalalithaa or her co-accused in the case. Both trials are now pending completion and conclusion in the Chennai and Bengaluru courts.

Conscientious, considerate?

In TN’s case, Modi is just now being seen as conscientious and considerate. He almost pulled up an all-party delegation from Karnataka, which was arguing the state’s case against the Centre constituting the court-ordered multi-state monitoring board, as directed and reiterated by the Supreme Court.

PM Modi told the Karnataka delegation that had he known that they had wanted to meet him for this purpose, he would have discouraged them. He wanted disputes of the kind settled amicably between states in the larger national interest, putting politics behind.

It’s a good beginning, and TN would be happy for it. So should it be if PM Modi would convey a similar message to Kerala. Both states are under Congress-led governments. Karnataka also has a strong political and electoral presence of Modi’s BJP.

For PM Modi to go beyond politics to preach the cause of consensus politics, both at the Centre and in the states, is one thing. But for him to find ways out of the current deadlock on the Cauvery and Mullaperiyar water disputes as the nation’s PM is another.

Over the past decades, successive PMs, judicial panels and river water commissions and monitoring committees, have been pushing around the case and the cause from one to another.

It also owed to the inadequacy of the Indian scheme and system to address such sensitive issues between states of the Union.

Competitive politics between regional political parties in the affected states and between individual state units of national parties have played spoilt-sport, with successive PMs not being able to even offer any proposal for amicable solution for their collective consideration.

Not wanting to be caught in the political cross-fire, PMs and their governments have avoided taking up the issue with the states concerned unless the higher judiciary ordered them to do so.

Even then, with their half-hearted peace-making efforts going nowhere, they would report ‘failure’ to the court, where it would stay for some more time.

To be fair to TN, in each of these cases, the final court verdict has been to TN’s limited satisfaction, if not full acceptance.

How, with his vast experience as Gujarat CM and the heavy responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s office, Narendra Modi would resolve the pending issues pertaining to TN and for good, not just the state but the entire nation would be watching with interest.

If he is able to find an innovative solution acceptable to all the states concerned, he would have won the future for self and the party at the national-level.

If he is unable to do so, and ends up following the beaten path of his predecessors, then it could be a deadlock from which he will need to come out, not just Tamil Nadu, but Karnataka, too, whose BJP support-base politician Modi cannot afford to sacrifice for the sake of PM Modi.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai chapter.

N Sathiya Moorthy