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A challenge and an opportunity for OPS

Tamil Nadu’s new Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) has taken charge of the state for the second time. His humility, self-effacing nature and quiet demeanour provide an opportunity to project Tamil Nadu differently. The state’s interests have suffered through the last four decades, by competitive populism and undue favours to party loyalists.

Both the DMK and the AIADMK resorted to offering ever-increasing quantum of freebies and subsidies with the object of garnering votes in elections.  The offers ranged from free electricity for farming; highly subsidized electricity tariff for domestic consumption; huge under-recoveries in fares for public transportation; distribution of land, cattle and sheep; universal supply of rice for free; distribution of colour TVs, mixies, fans, grinders, laptops, dhotis and saris free; these are apart from the numerous welfare schemes like free education up to  school level, the mid-day meal programme for school children; free uniforms, textbooks, shoes, etc., and most recently, the highly subsidised food through the municipal canteens run by self-help groups.

The massive quantum of subsidies amount to a humongous Rs 30,000 crore and accounts for a fourth of the revenue expenditure of the state.

Tamil Nadu reels under the weight of huge outgo of such subsidies, salaries and pensions of government employees and debt servicing costs.

In the coalition era post-1996, the two major Dravidian parties have either been part of the Central government or in opposition with it. With DMK alert in being part of the federal coalition for long the AIADMK has nurtured an adversarial relationship with the Centre. Sadly this comes in the way of the state getting its due share in Central allocations. There has been opposition even to many beneficial Central schemes. The inaccessibility of Jayalalithaa and the reluctance of the cabinet colleagues and senior bureaucrats to engage actively in seminars and public debates  that provide opportunities for interaction with policymakers and business leaders in Delhi or outside the state but even within, have been a serious handicap.

View these against the alertness of Chandrababu Naidu in the neighbouring Seemandhara. As he did in the NDA regime during 1998-2004 when he lent outside support, he is in an even better position to leverage his closeness to NDA II by being part of it. Seemandhara is pitching for special terms for investments. If income tax concessions are made available for five years’ according a special status for Seemandhara, it will have the serious impact on neighboring Tamil Nadu. The latter has been reeling under severe power shortage. Land prices in the state are hitting the roof.  Unlike the numerous flourishing minor ports of Gujarat, the three state-owned ports at Chennai, Ennore and Tuticorin and, more particularly, the new port of L&T suffer from myriad problems. Shrewd Naidu is bound to attract custom for the Krishnapatnam port nearby as also for investments across the border with his characteristic alertness and suavity.

OPS should meet this challenge squarely. With  bright prospects of his continuing as chief minister at least for two years, he should endeavour to change the adversarial image of the state vis-a-vis Centre. He should move away from emotive non-economic issues like Sri Lankan Tamils, and re-rail the numerous Central projects work on which have been abruptly stopped. Like Kamaraj and Bakthavatsalam did, he should set apart an hour of his time for any member of the public to meet with him by prior appointment.  The state should involve itself more in national initiatives by industrial associations permitting his cabinet colleagues and senior civil servants to participate in these. He should mend the relations with the media, which has not been too comfortable in dealing with the government in recent years.  Most important, he should endeavour to ensure a responsive bureaucracy. Like Punjab he should make the administration accountable and responsive to petitions and complaints within reasonable time on pain of penalty. The image of institutionalized corruption in the state needs to be changed by making transactions transparent.

OPS should build his own strengths as an able administrator. He has good role models in Kamaraj, Kakkan and others to build on his humility and simplicity. He has the whole state to win.

Party Supremo Jayalalithaa hand-picked OPS for Chief Minister’s post for the second time.

She should guide her trusted lieutenant on good governance.

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