New Chief Minister for Tamil Nadu (Well, not very new).

by padraigcolman

Hillary Clinton met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalithaa for an hour on July 20. The US Secretary of State congratulated Jayalalithaa on her electoral victory in the April 13 assembly polls. Clinton invited Jayalalithaa to visit US which would enable Americans to know about the great achievements of Tamil Nadu.

The distinguished Sri Lankan historian Kingsley de Silva has written that Sri Lankan Tamils are a minority with a majority complex, whereas the Sinhalese are a majority with a minority complex. Sinhala may be the language of the majority in Sri Lanka but it is not spoken anywhere else in the world except this small island (about the size of West Virginia). Although Tamil is the language of 11% of the population of Sri Lanka, there are 62 million Tamil speakers just across the Palk Straits in India. There has  always been a great deal of movement between the north of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, including a lucrative smuggling trade. Tamil militants, fighting for a separate state of Eelam, among whom the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) became dominant, saw the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a safe haven. For India’s central governments, fractious Tamil Nadu had long been a problem and the conflict in nearby northern Sri Lanka threatened  to have a destabilizing effect on the polity of the Indian nation, with Indian citizens in Tamil Nadu supporting the Sri Lankan separatist militants.

Vinod Mehta wrote in Outlook India about politics in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu:  “The main players in politics are movie stars or connected with the making of movies. Reality in Tamil Nadu politics is cinematic — larger than life and utterly bogus.” The elections in April 2011 brought  in a new Chief Minister for  Tamil Nadu after  Congress Party allies the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagem)   were beaten by the AIADMK (All India  Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagem ) .

Jeyaram Jayalalithaa, has been Chief Minister before. She was the long-term mistress of MG Ramachandran (MGR) , another movie star turned Chief Minister. She started out as a singer and movie actress.

In 1972, MGR left the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagem)  to form his own party the  ADMK  (Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagem). In 1977 he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He remained as chief minister till his death in 1987.  His party is now known as All India  Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagem

MGR with Indira Gandhi.

Here are some pictures from my private collection. I bought them from a street vendor in Madurai but did not know who was in the pictures. I now believe them to feature the young Ramachandran.

In the 2009 election Jeyaram Jayalalithaa was beaten in the vote for for Chief Minister by DMK’s Muthuvel Karunanidhi, a long-time rival of MGR. Karunanidhi also began his career  in the Tamil film industry. He was a screenwriter. Whatever MGR did for the Sri Lankan Tamils was not enough for Karunanidhi. Both saw the Eelam campaign in terms of their own electoral advantage in Tamil Nadu. Tamil groups courted them but the Tamil people of Sri Lanka suffered as a result of being pawns in their game.

Convincing evidence that the Tigers were finding a haven in Tamil Nadu was provided in August 1984 when a section of Madras International airport was accidentally blown up by explosives being transferred by Sri Lankan Tamils from Tamil Nadu to Colombo for the purpose of destroying the aircraft of the Sri Lankan national airline. Twenty-four Sri Lankan passengers were killed in the transit lounge. Some of the culprits were arrested but some escaped from India with the connivance of Indian officials and at least one secured refugee status in London.

In 1982, LTTE leader Prabhakaran, then aged 27 and in exile in Tamil Nadu after the murder of the Mayor of Jaffna, was arrested in Madras. Tamil Nadu politicians, including   Karunanidhi, who was leader of the opposition in the Tamil Nadu legislature at the time,  persuaded Indira Gandhi not to extradite Prabakharan to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lankan Inspector of Police Rudra Rajasingham, a Tamil, went back to Colombo without his captive. On August 6, a Madras court released Prabhakaran and ordered him to stay in Madurai. He later escaped to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka and continued his terror campaign until his death in May 2009.

When he was chief minister, Karunanidhi was implicated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, although he later became a valued supporter of widow Sonia Gandhi’s Congress Party. The Jain Commission investigating the assassination named Karunanidhi. One of the accused, Ranganath, said Chandraswami,  a tantric cleric,  was the godfather who financed the killing. Congress withdrew support from Karunanidhi . Jain had asserted in the interim report that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi would not have been possible without the “active connivance and support of the Tamils of Tamil Nadu.” Jain says it is for this reason that he felt the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi should have been among the politicians who were questioned by the Special Investigating Team. During the latter stages of the Sri Lankan government’s campaign against the LTTE in 2009, Karunanidhi called for a cease-fire and announced a “fast until death”. This turned out to be more like a fast from breakfast to lunchtime.

Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister from 1991-1996, and then again in 2002-2006. Karunanidhi was Chief Minister from 1969-1976, 1989-1991, 1996-2001, and 2006-2011. The two parties have alternately allied themselves with the Congress Party. They’ve both tried to hold parties like the Congress and the Hindu nationalist BJP to ransom come national election time.

Tamil Nadu has been electorally volatile. But the pendulum swings have been between two alliances led by the DMK and the AIADMK that have little political differences between them. Both are state parties from the same populist block, but are separated by harsh and spiteful personal rivalries at the leadership levels. It is this rivalry and the hunger for power and privileges, and not political principles or ideology, that determine which alliance either party would be part of at the national level and which alliance either party would lead in the state election.

Accordingly, and with rational opportunism, the DMK and AIADMK have formed marriages of convenience with both the Congress and non-Congress national parties. And when they are on the winning side, they get to share ministerial spoils in the Central and the State governments.

Whatever about the swings of the pendulum, the DMK has, according to Mahesh Rangarajan in the Times of India, never been so much in the doldrums. “It has been quite a fall for a chief minister who first held office  when Nixon was president of the USA, Mao Chairman of the Communist Party of China”. The DMK is down to 23 members in the legislature. The voters have given their verdict on Karunanidhi  giving so many prominent positions to members of his own family.

The election was fraught with several issues with varying implications for the multiple caste and local communities that make up  Tamil society in South India. Tamil Nadu encompasses  some of the more advanced industrial and service sectors in India as well as  rural areas suffering  drought and poverty.

India’s endemic corruption is old news , but the scandal over the underpriced licensing of 2G telecommunication spectrum has implicated the Congress Party and its coalition partner DMK nationally as well as in Tamil Nadu. At the centre of the scandal is a DMK politician, Minister of Communications Andimuthu Raja, a lawyer  of Dalit origin . He  is in jail awaiting trial. The scandal, reportedly the biggest in India’s corruption history costing the treasury over $40 billion, involves Raja, members of his family, other DMK and Congress politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses.
What is the import of Jayalalithaa’s landslide victory  for Sri Lanka? Before the 2009 election,  Jayalalithaa  became shrill in her opposition to the Sri Lankan military operation against the LTTE. “In the event of a government favourable to me coming into power, I will send Indian troops to Sri Lanka and create a separate state of Tamil Eelam.”

My colleague on Lakbima News, Malinda Seneviratne, wrote: “Will Tamil Nadu politicians let Sri Lanka be? No. Sri Lanka is what makes rhetoric spicy. Noises will be made. Loud noises. The bottom line is, for all the factoring-in of the Tamil Nadu Factor, Delhi does what Delhi thinks is best for Delhi when it comes to Sri Lanka. Back here, in Sri Lanka, it’s nothing more than ‘more of the same’.”

A senior Sri Lankan official said that had Tamil Nadu exerted pressure on the LTTE the Oslo-arranged cease fire could have been saved. “Unfortunately those who shed tears for the Tamil speaking people here turned the other way when the LTTE quit the peace process in April 2003 and stepped up hostilities leading to war in August 2006”.

Speaking on her own channel, Jaya TV,  after her election victory, Jayalalithaa said that it was India’s responsibility to ensure a “dignified and honourable existence” for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Although Jayalalithaa urged the Indian government to act against President Mahinda Rajapaksa for, what she called, war crimes and genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils, the government of Sri Lanka is keen to work with the new administration. External Affairs Minister  G L Peiris sent the newly-elected Chief Minister a congratulatory letter. A ministry  official emphasized the importance of having a dialogue with the Tamil Nadu administration for the benefit of the Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka.

Former cabinet minister & current senior Presidential adviser Milinda Moragoda has been given the task of winning over Jayalalithaa by President Rajapaksa. Moragoda is a personal friend of Chandrababu Naidu the chief of the Telugu Desam party in Andhra Pradesh. Naidu is also close to Ms Jayalalithaa.

Hillary Clinton and Jayalalitha had a long conversation over the current situation in Sri Lanka. They agreed  the need for greater progress towards reconciliation, said Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, a former ambassador to Sri Lanka. “We hope that there’s going to be greater progress towards reconciliation. The meeting sort of comes in the context of this recent film, the Channel 4 documentary that’s gotten a lot of attention around the world, including here in the United States… More broadly, they  talked about how there needs to be greater progress towards reconciliation and that really, the government should redouble efforts to reach an agreement in their dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance on all of the key issues of concern to Tamils inside Sri Lanka.”