By S. Sethuraman
The AIADMK supremo, Ms. Jayalalithaa, building on the massive mandate she secured in the May 2011 elections, has put Tamil Nadu back on its growth trajectory to reclaim its place in the top league of states, with a slew of fiscal balancing measures, fulfilling her poll promises to the poor, and laying out an ambitious path to prosperity, Vision 2023.
Yet, she has set her sights on the Centre and asked her partymen to prepare for 2014 Lok Sabha polls, convinced that single party majority rule days are over. Her game plan is to try and secure all the 40 seats that Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have in the Lok Sabha, as the DMK-Congress alliance once did in 2004. Ms. Jayalalithaa has been of the view that “anything can happen at the Centre between now and 2014”.
UPA-II, talking big and doing little to earn credibility, has lived mostly in denial of realities on the ground, and failed to lift constraints to growth, let alone “reforms” which to marketers only mean opening up wholesale retail to FDI along with higher equity caps for foreign investors in financial sector (banking, insurance and pension).These policies are vehemently opposed by power-sharing allies, most vociferously by TMC of Ms. Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, and other parties.
Likewise, TN Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalithaa stoutly opposes these besides GST (Goods and Services Tax) and the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre, on which several non-Congress Chief Ministers have teamed up in confrontation, suggestive of a gang-up against the Centre seeking “abrogation of state powers”. All this has been heightening the fragility of UPA dispensation, though lately it is trying to dispel impressions of reforms having been put on hold till 2014.
The first major test of strength for Congress-led UPA will come out of the Presidential election in July, for which the Congress, led by Ms. Sonia Gandhi, has begun putting through feelers to its current allies, DMK and TMC as well as parties supporting from outside (SP, RJD and BSP). Where does Ms. Jayalalithaa figure in this with her overwhelming majority in T N Assembly? Defence Minister Mr A K Antony called on the DMK leader Mr Karunanidhi in Chennai on April 29 as part of a consensus-building process.
A ”very fruitful” meeting Mr Antony said later before returning to report to Ms. Sonia Gandhi on what the DMK leader had told him. A couple of names reportedly figured as also Mr Karunanidhi’s preferences while Mr Antony inferred the DMK leader would not be averse to a consensus choice in UPA. It does not seem that Ms. Gandhi’s planned range of consultations would extend beyond UPA-supportive parties at present before perhaps sounding BJP.
BJP is averse to two names, Congress veteran Mr Pranab Mukherjee or Vice-President Mr Hamid Ansari even as a second term for Mr Abdul Kalam is being mooted in BJP. It is inconceivable for the Congress to talk to Ms. Jayalalithaa for support of any candidate until the final stage for a wider consensus with DMK on board, is reached. Only BJP leaders like Mr Narendra Modi and Mr Arun Jaitley have maintained contacts with Ms. Jayalalithaa, who is keeping watch on developments at the Centre.
Tamil Nadu had its share of challenges for Ms. Jayalalithaa in the first year of her third term Chief Ministership, such as the prolonged anti- nuclear agitation in the south, holding up work on the commissioning of the Kudankulam project with two 1000 mw reactors, the emotive issue of treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the inter-state water disputes with Kerala and Karnataka.
Her first priority was to restore law and order in the state, ending swiftly large-scale land grabs largely attributed to DMK cadres, and equally to deliver the promised benefits to the poor. She brought her famed skills of governance into full play in tackling sensitive issues her DMK rival Mr Karunanidhi and other outfits tried to exploit against her, and outsmarted them in her championing the cause of the state and interests of Tamils. But the undaunted but dejected DMK leader sees the party’s future in falling back upon chauvinism and reviving decades-old slogan of “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians”.
In the row with Kerala which raised the safety of Mullaperiyar dam, the Supreme Court is expected to pronounce its opinion in the light of a technical study. Ms. Jayalalithaa has also vowed to prevent Karnataka proceeding with building new dams across Cauvery in order to safeguard the interests of the lower riparian state. But onSri Lanka’s human rights violations as reported by UN against the Tamils in the 2009 war, the AIADMK leader had throughout urged the Centre to take it seriously and later mounted pressure forIndia’s vote in favour of the US-sponsored resolution in UN Human Rights Council.
With similar calls from DMK and other parties,Indiavoted for the resolution and a highly relieved Ms. Jayalalithaa thanked the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh “on behalf of the Tamils all over the world”. This was a notable exception to the barrage of attacks on the UPA Government Ms. Jayalalithaa had kept up on a host of issues including the Centre’s rejection of her demands for special financial assistance and additional power to ease the state’s power crisis.
The first year also saw Ms. Jayalalithaa consolidating her party’s hold on the state. In a sweep of civic elections, AIADMK took over all the ten municipal corporations and bagged a majority of district and town and semi-urban local bodies. Two resounding victories followed in byelections to two assembly seats. This helped to end the leader’s passivity for months on the anti-nuclear agitation while the state was engulfed in severe power cuts.
Ms. Jayalalithaa finally signalled in late March for re-starting work to commission the Kudankulam Plant, rid of all obstructions, and she pacified the agitators with a Rs. 500 crore plan to develop infrastructure in the neighbourhood and extend more facilities to the fishing community. The first 1000 MW plant is expected to begin generation by mid-June. The Centre would only provide 925 MW to Tamil Nadu against the latter’s plea for the entire output for mitigating the power crisis.
More significantly, Ms. Jayalalithaa addressed herself earnestly to repairing the State’s finances, given her own additions to freebies, and mobilized Rs. 3900 crores through changes in sales tax and stamp duty in the early months before the first tax-free budget for 2011-12 in August last.. Later on, she raised milk prices and the bus fares, left untouched for nine years, and put the people on notice for a hefty hike in power tariff referred to the regulatory body.
The second budget (2012-13), in March 2012, also had levies for rs.1500 crores with revenues and expenditures crossing the Rs. 100,000 crore mark. With buoyancy in tax receipts duty on liquor alone yielding Rs. 18,000 crores last year and rising, the budget left a small revenue surplus, limiting fiscal deficit to 2.7 per cent of GDP well within limits set by the 13th Finance Commission. From April 1, the revised power tariff came into force with an estimated yield of around Rs. 8000 crores a year for the heavily-indebted Tamil Nadu Electricity Board.
Ms. Jayalalithaa has unfolded her Vision 2023 at an estimated cost of Rs. 15 lakh crore, envisaging 11 per cent average GDP growth and a six-fold rise in per capita incomes by 2023 and providing for major strides in industry and world-class infrastructure. The Chief Minister is also to announce a new industrial policy to accelerate growth in manufacturing sector in a state already becoming a global hub in automobiles and components. (IPA Service)