In Tamil Nadu, a spat with a difference

The State stands to lose if the tussle between the T.N. Governor and CM escalates

Updated - January 24, 2023 12:24 pm IST

Published - January 12, 2023 02:10 am IST

A combination of pictures show Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. File

A combination of pictures show Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. File | Photo Credit: ANI

State Assemblies are no strangers to protests. Even Governors have been involved in such protests, by skipping or omitting portions of text from the addresses prepared for them by the State governments. In February 1965, for instance, the then West Bengal Governor, Padmaja Naidu, walked out of the Assembly without addressing the House, annoyed by the continuous interruptions by the Opposition. But what the Tamil Nadu Assembly witnessed on Monday is uncommon in the history of legislature in the country.

Governor R.N. Ravi refrained from reading out a paragraph that contained references to national and regional stalwarts, and to the term “Dravidian model of governance”, a phrase which gained currency after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government assumed office in May 2021.

Editorial |Bad and ugly: On the Tamil Nadu Governor’s walkout from the Assembly

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin responded through a resolution that said the House record would reflect only the prepared text and not the Governor’s version. The Assembly rules provide for observance of order before, after and during the address; the rule concerned (Rule 17) was relaxed to allow the Chief Minister to move the motion.

As Mr. Stalin went ahead with his speech in Tamil, the Leader of the Opposition, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, left the House along with his colleagues. Subsequently, Mr. Ravi ascertained from his officials what was going on and walked out of the Assembly too. Indications of the course of the day’s events were visible at the commencement of the Governor’s address when allies of the ruling party such as the Congress and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi raised slogans in support of the use of the term ‘Tamil Nadu’ instead of the term ‘Tamizhagam,’ which the Governor had deemed more appropriate. Later, they staged a walkout.

The Governor’s ties with the DMK have been far from smooth. Apart from sparking a debate on the name of the State, he also termed the State’s politics “regressive”, last week. Barring the BJP, there were no takers for his suggestion of using the term ‘Tamizhagam’ — not even from the principal Opposition party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which has otherwise voiced support for the Governor.

Both supporters and critics of the Governor’s observation quoted from Tamil works in defence of their positions. However, what is not highlighted much is that the nomenclature for the State-level Congress unit — Tamil Nadu Congress Committee — has been in vogue for almost 100 years. In 1961, C. Subramaniam, an important member of the Kamaraj Cabinet for eight years, even said that the State could be called ‘Tamil Nadu’ in Tamil while retaining the term ‘Madras’ in English. Besides, it was only through an Act of Parliament — the Madras State (Alteration of Name) Act, 1968 — that the State’s name was changed to Tamil Nadu. The day after the unsavoury events in the Assembly, the Governor, in an interaction with civil services aspirants, expressed his disapproval of the DMK’s practice of using the term “Union government” (“ondriya arasu”) to refer to the Centre.

Though Tamil Nadu, in the past, has seen spells of fractured equations between the Raj Bhavan and the State government, including a period in the mid-1990s when Governor M. Channa Reddy and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa were in power, the ongoing tussle appears to be different in one sense. There is no one in sight who can bridge the gap between the two constitutional authorities. Moreover, the BJP, regarded by the DMK as one of its ideological rivals, is in power at the Centre.

Jayalalithaa first terminated the alliance of her party, the AIADMK, with the Congress, which was in power at the Centre then; had a round of confrontations with Channa Reddy between 1993 and 1995; and eventually found ways to patch up with Reddy who, in his address to the Assembly in 1996, praised Jayalalithaa for her “inspiring leadership.” It was no wonder then that the AIADMK and the Congress fought together in the 1996 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, even though the two parties fared miserably.

The chances for such a dramatic turn of events in the present instance appear to be remote. Mr. Ravi has not given his nod for a number of Bills that have been adopted by the Assembly. People hope that the tensions do not escalate further; otherwise, they could impact adversely on the governance in the State.

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