December 28, 2016
Chennai: The year 2016 ended with grief for the people of Tamil Nadu as they lost their popular leader J Jayalalithaa, who had led her party to a comprehensive successive second victory in the Assembly polls only seven months ago.
As the ruling AIADMK tries to find its feet in both party affairs and governance post the death of its leader, main Opposition DMK is on a wait-and-watch mode though it continues to take up key issues like Cauvery and Jallikattu to keep the political pot boiling.
DMK Treasurer M K Stalin became the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly for the first time, his party winning 89 seats.
The State also faced the wrath of Cyclone Vardah, and a series of protests and sporadic violence on the Cauvery issue stretching over a month amidst other events this year.
The State was left with a sense of déjà vu as Cyclone Vardah ravaged its territory, eerily reminding people of the sufferings during the floods that happened last year in the same month. The trusty aide, O Panneerselvam, who was chosen to be the Chief Minster after Jayalalithaa, has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release Rs. 22,573 crore as cyclone aid.
Ever since Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation on September 22 till her she passed away on December 5, the State remained on tenterhooks with medical bulletins appearing on and off on her health status. Mass prayers in places of worship across Tamil Nadu by AIADMK workers and supporters became a regular feature. The area near the entrance to Apollo Hospitals, where she underwent treatment, became a makeshift prayer ground. Across the State, milk pot prayer processions and tonsuring of head by partymen were often seen.
Jayalalithaa had swung into action from day one after being sworn in May as Chief Minister for the sixth time by implementing a slew of measures. Waiver of crop loans for farmers, increase in gold allocation for women beneficiaries and closure of 500 Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) liquor outlets were among the measures aimed at fulfilling her electoral promises.
With her passing away, AIADMK leaders wanted her aide Sasikala to lead the party, with more functionaries voicing their support for her ascension to the seat of governance as Chief Minister as well.
For DMK workers, repeated hospitalisation of its nonagenarian leader Karunanidhi due to illness caused anxiety, though he is now on the path of recovery according to Kauvery Hospital, where he was treated.
Though Tamil Nadu’s legal battle to get Cauvery water for standing crops continues, the issue spurred a series of heightened protests and sporadic violence in the State during September and October. Such protests, spanning several weeks, had an adverse impact on the common people especially in districts bordering Karnataka, including Krishnagiri. A bandh supported by farmers’ outfits and opposition parties was held and a cadre belonging to Nam Thamizhar Katchi died after he immolated himself.
As the violence heightened in September in Karnataka with the torching of 30 buses in Bengaluru belonging to a private operator from Tamil Nadu, the situation turned worse. Stories of numerous people walking several kilometres from Hosur (Tamil Nadu) to reach Bengaluru, or to return to the State from Karnataka towns became normal news. Bus services and truck transports were shut completely for weeks together and inter-state borders were even sealed. The Cauvery issue also gained much political traction during September dividing the political parties into factions.
Though Jayalalithaa had already resumed the legal battle in the Supreme Court for Cauvery water before she was admitted, the issue was taken up in a big way by DMK to target the AIADMK regime.
Weeks preceding the November polls, the DMK pressurised the government to convene a special House session and an-all party meeting. The party also held a rally on the issue in Tamil Nadu’s hub of the Cauvery delta at Thanjavur.
Later, it held an “all-party meeting” which drew flak from the ruling AIADMK and other parties like the BJP. DMK MPs separately called on President Pranab Mukherjee while AIADMK MPs marched to the Prime Minister’s Office and submitted a memorandum seeking action, causing the divide to deepen among parties on the Cauvery issue.
Conventionally, Opposition parties pay lesser attention to by-polls since only the ruling party has won in such elections in TN in the past decades. However, in contrast, DMK took the polls for Thanjavur and Aravakkurichi and the bypoll to Thirupparankundram quite seriously. Stalin toured all the poll-bound areas extensively and taunted the ruling regime with his “the government is non-functional” refrain. Nevertheless, the ruling party won comfortably in all the three constituencies.
With the Tamil Nadu government deciding to implement the Food Security Act, Stalin cited it as the beginning of a “U-turn” by the Tamil Nadu government in view of the hospitalisation of Jayalalithaa. He said such schemes that were opposed vehemently by Jayalalithaa were now allegedly being given concurrence by the State government after she was hospitalised. He even accused the Centre of “intimidating” the State over such issues.
In August, a train heist stunned Tamil Nadu in which Rs. 5.78 crore was stolen by breaking open the roof of a parcel van attached to the Salem-Chennai Express.
In October, two SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) activists wanted by Tamil Nadu police in connection with the 2014 May train blast case in Chennai (in which a techie was killed) were among the eight killed in an encounter in Bhopal bringing the curtain down on the two-year-old case.
The arrest of Dawood Suleiman, the kingpin behind the Al Qaeda inspired module “Base Movement” and his associates including N Abbas Ali of Madurai, responsible for blasts in court complexes in South India, was a major breakthrough for the NIA in Tamil Nadu.