October 20, 2020
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It’s not often that when a Collector and Superintendent of Police of a district are transferred, people feel bereft. But it has happened in Madurai with the abrupt transfers of both Collector U Sagayam

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Chennai Corner

Summer of Discontent

This has really turned into a summer of discontent. Although the last day of Kathiri (when the mercury is highest in the season) went by on May 28, the temperature gauge stubbornly continued to hover in the 42 degrees Celsius region and now parents are worried about how they will send their children to school from Monday with a heat wave in play and even the sea breeze playing truant. The Jayalalitha government has been merciless, adding to their agony, by continuing with load shedding for two hours which only someone who has been miserable and airless between noon and 4 pm when the sun is blazing can understand.

Adding to the misery were the petrol prices and the paucity of diesel that led to fist fights at petrol bunks rationing the black gold. People suffered standing in the scorching sun with bottles and cans and even put up with blackmarketeering of petrol. There were Facebook alerts about where diesel was available even if some people paid five times the price for a litre. “I heard from a friend that diesel was available in the basement of a commercial building on Anna Salai and rushed there and got 10 litres for Rs 900,” admitted a marketing executive. Others paid more because the diesel meant to run generators was diverted for desperate motorists. Even bunk owners cashed in on the drought of fuel keeping one litre bottles aside for those willing to pay the price. “I sold only to known people and regular customers,” said a bunk owner.

Cyber Chennai shut down and software companies told their employees to log in from home. The misery of the diesel shortage was even brought home to residences because the fuel squeeze led to prices of vegetables shooting up more than they already had. Unbelievable but true, the diesel shortage led to vegetables not being able to reach retailers from wholesalers. And as a result, Koyembedu was a mass of rotting vegetables while people had to pay Rs 30 for a bunch of coriander at neighbourhood shops.

Did you say Nero?

What did CM Jayalalitha do? She held a meeting of officials to fight a fire that was already raging when she and her officials should have anticipated the crisis and taken steps to avert. A passenger M. Raghuram, put it well: This is the only state where daylight robbery is committed by auto drivers. No government has the spine to introduce meters like in other metros. Since most autos are owned by those in power, the authorities don’t want to make meters mandatory.” What else did the government do? It is still issuing full page advertisements in the media about what a great CM Jayalalitha is, two weeks after her first year anniversary. Today’s advertisement calls her a “known sports enthusiast.” But the only game she has played over the last year is “blame the DMK”. And she is beginning to sound unconvincing because one year is a long time for anyone to put their mark on governance more so Jayalalitha who is supposed to be a “purathchi thalavi”(revolutionary leader).

Karuna’s flip flop

It’s her blaming of DMK chief Karunanidhi for the UPA government not rolling back the petrol hike that caused him to once again (ho, hum) threaten to pull out of the central government. Later he blamed the media for “misinterpreting” his statement. At a public meeting called by the DMK to protest fuel prices Karunanidhi said that the DMK had walked out of alliances with the BJP and from the VP Singh cabinet. The obvious conclusion implied by that loaded reference was that he was ready for the walk. But DMK MP T R Baalu denied that Karunanidhi’s threat – which, incidentally, had his cadre cheering wildly because they want the DMK to delink from the Congress – had led to the PM telephoning him for a clarification.

But the DMK cadre heard what they heard and are disappointed now. “Did he not say so in front of us? I have no idea what he meant when he said later in Arivalayam that the media misquoted him,” said a bewildered trade union leader, K Elango. Karunanidhi has in recent years been half- hearted about his statements and actions. Remember his breakfast to lunch fast in 2009 on the Sri Lankan issue, days before Tamils were slaughtered in the island? And the numerous threats to pull out and resignations by his MPs? Earlier, his hands were tied because daughter Kanimozhi and Telecom Minister, A Raja, were in jail in the 2G case. Now they are both out on bail, that cannot possibly be holding him back. What is, however, is the fact that the DMK and he in particular would be completely powerless with Amma ruling the roost here.

Jayalalitha vs Vijayakant at Pudukottai

Most politicians in Tamil Nadu would not like to be in DMDK chief, Vijayakant’s shoes. Particularly because his bravado in the assembly in February (that earned him a 10-day suspension) is about to be tested. He had said on the floor of the house that the AIADMK had got a huge mandate in the assembly elections only because the DMDK was in alliance with it. Jayalalitha had challenged him to a direct contest to decide who helped who win. And that’s about to happen on June 12 at Pudukottai when the AIADMK faces the main opposition party in a contest that has 20 candidates. His sacrificial lamb is N Jahir Hussain (DMDK) who is pitted against AIADMK’s Karthik Thondaiman.

Even DMK’s M Karunanidhi bowed out of the race because he did not want another bypoll where the DMK would lose its deposit as happened in March at Shankarankoil. But Vijayakant is going where others – the CPI, the MDMK among others – have feared to tread because bypolls are never about a level playing field and the ruling party almost always wins. Jayalalitha’s intention is to humble Vijayakant which is why 32 of her ministers are part of the 52-strong committee she has appointed for the Pudukottai bypolls. All the 29 MLAs of the DMDK, barring Vijayakant (who is expected to campaign there next week) are stationed in the constituency.

For the record, the AIADMK won from this constituency for the first time in 2001 and retained it in 2006. But in 2011, Pudukottai was given to the CPI which was part of the AIADMK alliance. The CPI won and it’s the tragic death of the MLA P Muthuraman that has necessitated the by-election.

Officers and Gentlemen

It’s not often that when a Collector and Superintendent of Police of a district are transferred, people feel bereft. But it has happened in Madurai with the abrupt transfers of both Collector U Sagayam and SP Asra Garg because both touched people’s lives greatly. ' Lanjam Thavirtthu, Nenjam Namartthu (Reject bribes, hold your head high)', is the motto which U Sagayam works under. Now he is holding his head high after his abrupt transfer last week as collector of Madurai to what is surely the boondocks of postings, Special Officer and Managing Director Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’Co-operative Society (Co-optex).

A large number of women and transgenders from Aripatti gathered in front of the collectorate last week after news trickled in of Sagayam’s transfer. Sagayam was posted there following orders from the Election Commission before the assembly election last April to keep Karunanidhi’s son, Union Minister M K Azhagiri in check because it was no secret that he had fashioned the cash for votes formula.

Azhagiri might be rejoicing but people are very sad to see him go as he was seen as a “people’s officer” not only because he was a good administrator, was fair, and tough when it came to upholding rule of law (Madurai’s bus stand is testimony to his cleaning it of encroachments) but also he respected them and empathized with them. His actions had also helped save the environment, because he put a stop to illegal quarrying of granite and sand, a woman remembered.

Similarly, differently-abled persons in the district were all praise for the role played by the Collector during his innings. “After meeting Mr. Sagayam, I got the hope that I too can come up in life,” was how a differently-abled young man from Mela Anupanadi, put it talking about the collector’s work for the uplift of these challenged community.

When I met him last August, Sagayam had said “I know I sit under a dangerous slogan and probably alienate people,” he says. “But I have been the same Sagayam from Day 1. Standing up against corruption is not for a season. Nor is it a fad. It’s forever.” So wherever he is posted, people will stand to gain.

This week, residents of Uthapuram, where a historic reconciliation was brought about between Vellalars and Dalits recently through the initiative of the district administration, police and other organisations, petitioned the CM to keep the transfer of Garg in abeyance. The petition referred to Garg’s role in bringing to an end the 50-year-old animosity between the two groups, something that was even commended by the high court. But Garg has to move on and other people will benefit from the actions of this fine officer.

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