In our July issue, I suggested the ruling AIADMK should consider offering a safe Rajya Sabha seat to Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar. The DMK could offer such a seat to Dr. Manmohan Singh. Such concepts are readily accepted in several other states, but political parties in Tamil Nadu are jealous over their rights to make such an offer. This stems from treating the post as sinecure that should be extended only to a party loyalist. The more crucial issue of the prestige and the benefits that would accrue to the state by the stature of the incumbent is not relevant!
Look at the feeble impact made by the MPs of the Dravidian parties over the last 52 years since the advent of the Dravidian rule in the state. Most of the representatives had made little mark as parliamentarians or an administrators. There were a couple of exceptions like Era Chezhian or Murasoli Maran. Maran did make an impact as Minister of Commerce, but that was at the fag end of his life. The tenure of several other DMK ministers was marked by poor media relations. I remember the interactions of T R Baalu and A Raja with the Delhi media were hostile and often acrimonious. They were little known outside Delhi and Tamil Nadu.
The MPLAD scheme, other perks, and privileges, including a generous pension were of great value to the concerned MP. The MPLAD alone provides Rs 25 crore for constituency improvements. Even here, very few of the MPs are reported to have utilised this large sum effectively.
With BJP having no base in Tamil Nadu a gesture on the part of AIADMK to offer a Rajya Sabha seat would bring twin advantages: the first is, of course, the state represented by a very senior cabinet minister who could be expected to help further the interest of the state. Did not Manmohan Singh do this for Assam for so long? Equally important is to get the involvement of an intellectual and get him/her promote the interest of the state.
In the context of the considerable monies required and the difficulty of attracting high calibre intellectuals into politics, the Dravidian parties would do well to look at this practice. Bihar offers shining instances. N K Singh initially and now Pawan Varma, both brilliant bureaucrats and known across the country lend a lot of prestige to their state through their representation. Mamata Banerjee did this as a matter of commitment. Look at Dr Amit Mitra and Derek O’Brien making for such loyal and vociferous support to their mercurial Mamatadi! Remember also how Malcolm Adiseshiah and Cho Ramaswamy added value to the Rajya Sabha.
Swapan dreams differently
Swapan Dasgupta launched his latest book, Awakening Bharat Mata- the political beliefs of the Indian right at the Chennai International Centre (CIC). With his rich journalistic background, regular columns in Times of India and appearances in the national TV news channels, Swapan is widely known as a BJP ideologue. He traced the high points of the evolution of the Indian right. Of course, typical of a Bengali intellectual, he quoted profusely from the several Bengali icons- Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Jadunath Sarkar, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Vivekananda, et al. Only Rabindranath Tagore, Subash Chandra Bose, and Satyajit Ray were missing.
This is in contrast to the Tamils who have taken special care not to project their own stalwarts – and they were in such large numbers from Subramania Bharati to Rajaji.
The description by Swapan was interesting and informative. However, I was intrigued by his assertion that Rajaji’s concept of right was more on dharma and not so much on economics. He mentioned that the liberal economic content was provided by people like Minoo Masani.
I sought to correct this impression pointing to Rajaji’s years of tirade against statism and the public sector, to his weekly columns in Swarajya for years hypercritical on the permit-quota-licence raj. In fact, the Bombay intellectuals and the Delhi’s Indraprastha intelligentsia (not Khan Market) were attracted by Rajaji’s right rhetoric!
Swapan still vaguely attempted to trace Rajaji’s rightist ideas to Gandhiji’s perceptions. I found this far-fetched. Rajaji’s tirade began post-1956 after the resolution passed at the Avadi Congress launching India on the socialistic pattern of society. It was also modelled development on the Russian Gosplan with focus on steel, heavy industry… state-owned and aiming commanding heights for the public sector. Rajaji bitterly opposed these.
The effectiveness of the Tamil intellectuals not projecting their own ilk to an extent seen in Bengal was glaringly evident.
New Chief Secretary should address agricultural reforms
K Shanmugam (KS) has succeeded Dr. Girija Vaidyanathan as Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu. Girija headed the state’s civil service at a crucial period when the state administration was settling down after the demise of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, the party splitting and M K Stalin taking the reins of the DMK after the demise of M Karunanidhi.
The illustrious daughter of the brilliant civil servant, S Venkitaramanan, Girija steered the state with quiet efficiency. The highlights of her tenure included the smooth conduct of the Global Investors’ Meet 2019 and elections to the Lok Sabha.
K Shanmugam has had a long tenure as finance secretary for close to a decade from 2010. The state’s revenues shot up from Rs 55,844 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 180,619 crore in 2018-19.
Through the decade the state has also maintained its thrust for welfare schemes. I remember the caution expressed by KS on some of the fiscal aspects that needed attention. At a seminar organised by the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), he pointed to the state industry missing out to China: the state provided fans, mixies, and grinders free to its citizens as part of its welfare measures. The few thousand crores of rupees spent by the state on this welfare scheme, sadly, he pointed out, did not go to industrial units around Chennai or Coimbatore; these appliances were imported from China by traders.
KS also expressed concern over salaries and pensions accounting for a large and increasing share of the state’s total revenue expenditure.
Just look at the budget estimates under these heads for 2019-20: salaries: Rs 55,400 crore; pensions and retirement benefits: Rs 29,627 crore; non-wage O&M: Rs 11,083 crore, adding up to Rs 96,110 crore. This was against the state’s own revenues of Rs 138,140 crore. KS introduced measures such as contracting out specific jobs to economise on this.
KS hails from Vazhappadi village near Salem and is an alumnus of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University with a post-graduate degree in agriculture economics. His passion and interest in agriculture, I suggest, should be directed to bring about fundamental, structural changes aiming at the agglomeration of small landholdings. This can be done permitting lease of land over 15 years and more without alienating ownership. This will lend for the application of science, technology, management and mechanisation that would help in quantum growth in agriculture.
S Krishnan has succeeded K Shanmugam as TN’s Finance Secretary. He brings with him rich and varied experience from administering districts rising to state, national, and international levels. As Private Secretary to Union Finance Minister and later working at IMF-Washington, Krishnan’s perspectives expanded manifold. For nearly a decade now he has been handling planning, conceiving and implementing large projects with global funding, housing, urban planning…
Krishnan has been articulating on various development programmes of the state and has been zealous about advancing the interests of the state’s issues. His stewardship of the finance department can be expected to further strengthen the state’s solid reputation for fiscal administration.