Tamil Nadu is no exception to tussles between its Governors and Chief Ministers. The spell of confrontation involving Governor M. Channa Reddy and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the mid-1990s stands out in the history of clashes between two constitutional authorities of the State.
When M. Channa Reddy came to Chennai in May 1993 to assume the charge of 17th Governor of the State, the expectation in political circles was that it was a matter of time differences between the Governor and the Chief Minister came to the fore. It was not just because of the fact that the two were headstrong personalities but also due to the political context in which the appointment of Reddy took place, according to archival materials available with The Hindu .
A couple of months earlier, Jayalalithaa announced the termination of alliance of her party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), with the Congress, which was in power at the Centre then.
The first instance of irritation could be traced to the Governor’s resentment over the State administration's failure to inform him immediately of the bomb blast of the RSS headquarters in Chetpet, Chennai, in August 1993.
Even though the Governor’s complaint did not lead to a war of words between the two sides, the stage was subsequently set for confrontation. Dr. Reddy’s direction to Chief Secretary T.V. Venkataraman to submit a report on law and order directly to him during the September 1993 byelection to Palani Lok Sabha and Ranipet Assembly seats had prompted the then Revenue Minister S.D. Somasundaram to accuse him of seeking to function as a “super Chief Minister.”
Then came the controversy over the rejection of names recommended for the Madras University’s Vice-Chancellor post, which had provoked the ruling party to moot a bill proposing to replace the Governor with Chief Minister as Chancellor of the varsity.
For the next two years, the equations between the two remained at the lowest ebb. The Republic Day parades in 1994 and 1995 became occasions for public display of the cold war between the Governor and the Chief Minister. The customary tea parties hosted by the Governor were boycotted by the political executive. Jayalalithaa had more than once demanded the recall of Reddy and got a resolution adopted, reiterating the demand.
In April 1995, she made a sensational charge in the Assembly that Reddy had used “uncouth” language to insult her and acted without decency when she called on him at Raj Bhavan in August 1993. It was around the time that Reddy’s motorcade was stopped in Tindivanam, 120 km from Madras, by a crowd of AIADMK workers.
On his part, Reddy continued to kick up one controversy after the other. When the Latur earthquake occurred in September 1993, he went on a fund raising campaign on his own, instead of getting it done through the State government.
Once, addressing a press conference in New Delhi, he criticised the performance of the AIADMK government. On another occasion, at a function in Salem, he said he would not “hesitate to initiate suitable action at the appropriate time,” seeming to level a veiled threat to the Chief Minister, although he had made it clear that he would like to play only according to rules. The high point in the Governor’s drive against the Chief Minister was his sanction of March 1995 to prosecute Jayalalithaa in respect of cases concerning the purchase of land of TANSI and coal import.
However, four months later, there was a dramatic turn in the relationship between the Governor and the Chief Minister. In September 1995, Jayalalithaa, who had about 10 months ago got the portfolios of her Ministers changed without involving the head of the State, called on Reddy to have two Ministers sacked. The 1996 Republic Day parade was different from the previous two events as an atmosphere of cordiality marked the reception given by the Chief Minister to the Governor. Reddy, in his address to the Assembly in February that year, praised Jayalalithaa for her “inspiring leadership.”