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The calculations behind Jaya's opposition to GST

By N Sathiya Moothy
August 08, 2016 18:37 IST
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With Tamil Nadu’s economy getting increasingly debt-ridden with each passing budget, any concession to the Centre on the tax front, the state government has argued, would only help forgotten ‘minor parties’ to start hoping of a revival, says N Sathiya Moorthy. 

Last week’s Rajya Sabha walkout by Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK may not have caused the GST Bill to be voted out, or even delayed its passage, but the party’s reservations that the Bill sought to neutralise the ‘federal’ structure of the Constitution in form (Centre-state fiscal powers) and content (reduced tax receipts for the state) can regain national focus, if its implementation in the months and years ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls proves a point or two.

It also remains to be seen if the state government or any AIADMK functionary/backer would move the Supreme Court as two-thirds of the state legislatures formally vote in the Bill, and President Pranab Mukherjee too gives his asset, in the coming weeks.

Nearer home, the AIADMK walkout may have silenced critics of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and also Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that their personal and personalised political equations are greater than the political opposition of each other’s party in Tamil Nadu. It could also silence uncharitable social media comments linking any shift in the AIADMK’s stand on any issue involving the Centre as a compromise, to benefit Jayalalithaa in one pending case or another.

There have been enough graft cases against Jayalalithaa over the past two decades, now reduced to the single, pending the Supreme Court’s verdict in the ‘disproportionate assets case’. It’s another matter that the Centre has no role whatsoever in this case -- hence not even the remote possibility of counsel for the Union weakening the arguments, to favour one person or the other.

Truth be acknowledged, Jayalalithaa had expressed her party-government’s reservations on GST when she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time after the latter’s election in mid-2014. The party has only stood firm on its position.

With Tamil Nadu’s economy getting increasingly debt-ridden with each passing budget, any concession to the Centre on the tax front, as the state government has argued, could help the forgotten ‘minor parties’ from the assembly elections in May this year, to hope of reviving themselves.

Worse could be the case of the Opposition DMK, which could now begin facing flak both within and outside the assembly, for compromising on the salient ‘federal’ principles of the Dravidian polity.

The discourse, taken to its peak, could go back to a revived war of words on who between the two had ‘cheated’ the state and its people on a series of past concerns, including river water disputes with all three neighbouring states, Katchchativu and the Sri Lankan Tamils issues.

Independent of their ability to influence electoral decisions in the state, ‘pan-Tamil revivalism’ over the past two decades and more has become a millstone for the multi-layered Dravidian polity.

Having fuelled the ‘pan-Tamil’ Dravidian fire, when it was in the ebb after the successive electoral successes of the DMK and breakaway AIADMK from the ’60s to the ’80s, the two in particular found out that they were being judged not on ideology anymore but on performance and poll promises -- and the ability to live by them, if and when voted in.

When traditional ideology began taking a backseat in the mainline Dravidian electoral calculus, the periphery had to seek its own identity. Thus was born the likes of Vaiko’s MDMK and GenNext actor-politician Vijaykanth’s DMDK and Seeman’s ‘Naam Tamizhar Katchi’.

Other parties founded during the era, like Dr Ramadoss’s PMK, Dr K Krishnaswamy’s Puthiya Tamizhagam and Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi all had undeniable caste identities and causes. Yet, they could not escape embracing a larger pan-Tamil cause, which had fewer takers anyway in mainline Dravidian polity.

This meant that the ideological DMK parent first, and the AIADMK rival later on, too needed to take a step or two backward, if only to ensure that they did not lose out on the unidentified and unquantifiable number of GenNext ‘pan-Tamil voters’, with whom they had begun losing the much-mentioned ‘cadre connect’ from the preceding decades.

Over the past two decades and more, Tamil Nadu’s river water disputes with all three neighbouring states, namely, Karnataka (Cauvery waters), Kerala (Mullaperiyar storage) and Andhra Pradesh (Palar check dams), has silently given a 21st century twist to the Dravidian polity’s traditional ‘therku thaikiradhu’ argument.

Translated, it means that the ‘south was on the wane’ in the national politico-economic context. Earlier the slogan was aimed at contrasting with ‘vadakku vaazhgiradhu’ (‘north is progressing’), part of what was DMK founder C N Annadurai’s famous slogan. Today, it’s ‘Tamil Nadu vs Rest’, or so it seems.

As coincidence would have it, the three river water disputes, which evolved independent of one another in the decades after Independence, have encompassed all of Tamil Nadu in geographical, political and cultural terms. It’s thus Cauvery issue in west and south central Tamil Nadu, Mullaperiyar in the south, and Palar, now in the north.

To this has been added in recent years and decades, the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, the Katchchativu dispute and the fishermens’ issue.

More for wrong reasons than right, competitive Dravidian politics of the past two decades -- where ‘identity’ issues too found challenges and challengers -- mutual one-upmanship has embroiled Tamil Nadu in pan-Tamil politics than ever before since inception.

Not to be left out, the mainline had to take on and also take over those identities, which they had known had lost their larger electoral relevance long ago. If nothing else, the DMK and the AIADMK could not afford lesser and newer parties to claim ownership. Nor could they afford the ‘other’ between them, to monopolise. 

It’s thus that Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora strategists have been able to influence Tamil Nadu’s political thoughts on the ethnic issue, war and violence in the island-nation.

At the bottom of it all is an increasing tendency against compromises that are inevitable not only for states in the Union to thrive and grow together, but also for the very survival of ‘federalism’ as a concept and the Union of India as a reality.

It’s thus that inter-state and Centre-state issues as river water disputes and Katchchativu concerns have acquired an over-arching ‘pan-Tamil identity’ more than even ‘federal’ legality.

So complete has it all become that during the ongoing Budget session of the state assembly that the House, at the instance of the ruling party, passed a unanimous resolution, seeking to rename the rechristened Chennai high court (earlier Madras high court) as ‘Tamil Nadu high court’.

It’s sad that the state government, which is conscious so as wanting to guide and direct all fishermen-level talks with counterparts in Sri Lanka, seems overlook the fact that the jurisdiction of the Madras/Chennai high court covers the Union territory of Puducherry as well, and that renaming the high court after one of the two jurisdictional states could have political consequences in and for the other.

There is still a silver lining of sorts. DMK’s P T R Thyagarajan, a technocrat who has spent much of his career overseas, delivered his maiden speech in the state assembly, in English, and confined himself to fiscal issues and principles (generally not heard much in the state, otherwise).

What was even more surprising about Thyagarajan’s content-filled assembly speech in English was the way the rest of the 89-member DMK legislature party defended him and his right when the ruling party fielded half-bit Tamil film comedian, Karunaas, to snub him in the House.

That Karunaas did not do his homework on this issue as much as on any other on which he had been commissioned to talk in the House only went on to make the comparison in perspective – that times are changing even more than two decades ago, and the Dravidian polity better watch out for the winds of change before it overwhelmed them, and possibly for real!

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

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