One must say that while most politicians bore you with their clichéd utterances -- “I’m a loyal soldier of the party”, “I’ll resign from politics if xyz charges are proved”, “I’ve been misquoted” -- Jayalalitha brings a refreshing, albeit very convent school element into her quote-a-day. No stock phrases for her, but graphic, evocative, sometimes even flowery language is what she spouts. For instance, she has labelled the just-concluded tour by 10 DMK-Congress-VCK MPs to the camps that hold IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) -- there are 2.53 lakhs since the war with the LTTE ended in May this year -- as “a guided tour.” She’s called the team a “bogus delegation” who are out to make Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse “a victim of subterfuge who would be rolling out the red carpet under the mistaken impression that they were official delegates of the Indian government.” Then, she has wondered whether the delegation would get to see the real camps where Tamils were “interned in abominable conditions” or would be shown specially-created camps where “dummy refugees will be shown living a life of luxury and leisure.” Turning on the CM, she has accused Karunanidhi “and his cohorts” of trying to take the “entire Tamil race for a ride” through the visit. Phew!
One stock thing she does and this time too she has not varied from the script: She has demanded Karunanidhi’s resignation. Her justification for the demand this time is because he did not approach the Supreme Court to seek a stay on the sanctioning of a survey by the union ministry for environment and forests to build a new dam to replace the existing 113-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. He has survived her gazillion demands before, he’ll survive this one too!
Are the Tamils better off after the visit?
According to media reports, former minister T R Baalu, who is head of the delegation, reduced a woman collector (incidentally a Tamil) to tears apparently taking a leaf out of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s book. That was at the start of the visit. Since then the team, which met President Mahinda Rajapakse later, is quite “satisfied” after a meeting but concerned with the slow pace of resettlement.
But it is still not clear why the team went and met tea plantation workers in Nuwara Eliya. The workers are Indian origin Tamils and have nothing to do with the IDPs. But Arumugam Thondaman, head of the Ceylon Workers' Congress, arranged the visit and the team went, just as it did for the gala dinner he hosted at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya.
“Drama” is a word which is part of the politician’s lexicon in Tamil Nadu (remember Karunanidhi was enacting it during his breakfast-to-lunch fast at the Marina for the Sri Lankan Tamils before the Lok Sabha elections?). DMDK leader Vijaykanth dismissed the visit as a drama. Both Jaya and her ally Vaiko, whose heart bleeds for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, particularly of the revolutionary kind, have rejected the visit as an “eyewash”.
The CPM says that Karunanidhi could not afford to be partisan but he was because only coalition MPs went and he claimed their respective parties would pay for the visit. His retort to those who pointed out opposition parties were kept out was they could send their teams too. Apparently he wanted to safeguard his pro-Tamil credentials but many believe that it was the CPI who first shone the spotlight on the plight of Tamils before other politicians hijacked the issue for self-aggrandisement.
Jaya’s take on the visit: “The outcome of the visit can be conjectured. The team would make a candid admission (in its report to the CM) that there were some shortcomings, but that was to be expected when handling a problem of such massive proportions.”
Let’s wait and see if she is vindicated.
Statues are the name of the game
It took the Supreme Court to make UP Chief Minister Mayawati back off from her statue megalomania while it has taken a fast-unto-death by a veteran Congress leader R Sudulai Muthu Nagar to get the Karunanidhi clan to hastily abandon the deification of the CM’s parents – Muthuvelar and Anjukam Ammal – at Tirunelveli.
Dy CM Stalin was on a two-day visit to the southern district during which the statues were to be unveiled. He was set to inaugurate the new bus stand which was to be named after the CM’s parents. But after criticism by AIADMK Chief Jayalalitha, both Karunanidhi and Stalin have backtracked and the statues, near the bus stand, remain covered, with policemen guarding it.
The CM now claims that there was no official order to name the bus stand after his parents. According to him, the local MLA M Appavu, was behind the installation of the statues (a new form of sychophancy?) and also wished to name the bus stand as Muthuvelar-Anjugam Amaiyar memorial bus stand because he had volunteered to bear the cost of 90 per cent of land needed for the bus stand.
The Radhapuram panchayat had validated the MLAs wish through a resolution in May 2007. But Jayalalitha, who has been on a criticism spree since her return from her four month retreat at her Kodanadu estate, prevailed.
The Elevated Feeling
What’s common between Tirunelveli and Chennai? Statues. But in Chennai’s case, statues will be preserved even if fishermen’s huts will be demolished under the realigned plan of the elevated expressway connecting the Light House to Kottivakkam.
The final detailed feasibility report, submitted by Wilbur Smith Associates, says 928 residential structures, 19 commercial establishments, 11 public utility structures and 8 religious structures will be flattened to make the elevated expressway, the first in the country, possible. The earlier draft had estimated that 594 houses, 14 commercial buildings, six public utility buildings and three places of worship would go.
But realignment has apparently been done to protect the statues lining the Marina. Even the DGP’s office, a heritage structure on Marina, may be sacrificed for the expressway. “The structure has only survived because of public action,” says Nityanand Jayaraman of the Save Chennai Beaches, who filed an RTI to get the latest report. Rs 469 crores will be spent on Phase 1 of the expressway to make nearly a 1,000 families homeless!
The Golden Tsunami
That’s what those in the social sector call the 2004 catastrophe because it helped NGOs flourish. Of the 5,139 NGOs in TN, 2,000 came up post-tsunami.
Immediately after the tsunami, at least a thousand NGOs mushroomed and the government allowed them, as an emergency measure, to receive foreign funding although many did not fulfil the qualification of having three years field experience. While NGOs run by missionaries and spiritual organizations worked to build permanent shelters, many other NGOs got the funds but did precious little work. As a social work professor says, “The tsunami actually rehabilitated many NGOs.”
Dr Benedicta and Robert Sunil, who were arrested recently for allegedly swindling Rs 7.5 crores, that was given by US-based funding agency, are among the notorious NGOs. The US-based Episcopal Relief Development (ERD) had given Rs 17.63 crore to the CSI church in Royapettah for rehabilitation of tsunami-affected people living in TN, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
But the funds were apparently diverted as the confiscation of two luxury cars, valued at Rs 18 lakh each, from Benedicta and Sunil shows. According to an investigating officer, “Both Benedicta and Sunil were entrusted with the funds and were also paid about Rs 80,000 to Rs 90,000 per month plus perks including luxury cars for official use. Nearly Rs 7.5 crore meant for building houses for displaced fishermen, buying fishing nets and boats were siphoned off in this manner.”
Benedicta’s parents – Pauline and Satyamurty, office-bearers of the CSI church – had appointed her and their nephew Sunil as consultants for the Tsunami rehabilitation project. The fraud was discovered when CSI’s new office bearers asked ERD for more money to complete the ongoing rehabilitation work. But ERD asked for accounts of the earlier funds. When church secretary, Moses Jayakumar, in turn asked his predecessor Pauline to submit the accounts, she refused saying the funds were allotted to her in her individual capacity and therefore she was not accountable. This tussle led to an internal audit and the discovery of the fraud.
Moses met Chennai police commissioner, T Rajendran, last September and lodged a complaint, but action has been taken only now. A day after the arrest, blowing the lid of the tsunami racket, more than 200 women from the Ennore tsunami quarters lodged a complaint, seeking action against the accused.
Deepavali is here
Last week-end, many jammed Pothy’s, Chennai Silks, Saravana Stores, GKT jewllers, Vummidi jewellers in their frenzy to shop while they dropped. Cashing in on this acquisitive psyche stores respond with sales and freebies that make walking in T’Nagar a hurdle course. There it’s really the survival of the fittest. Caught in a traffic jam on Chennai’s streets because of the festival rush, one disgusted resident said-“They shop as if Deepavali comes once in 12 years!” Another comment: “It’s like Apocalypse is here and everyone must shop before that.”