Towards a new type of government

Dear Chief Minister-elect,

I send to you my felicitations on your victory in the elections to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and my confidence that you will not only inaugurate a new government but what N. Ram, Director of The Hindu Publishing Group, at the recent launch of the book, The Dravidian Model — Interpreting the Political Economy, said he would want to see: ‘a new type of government’.

Before I suggest what that ‘newness’ might be, I want to say something which does not need saying for it stares us in the face. Please do not think of this is as ‘an old man’s lecture’. It is not. It is a fellow citizen’s ardent appeal.

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Tackling the pandemic

You are assuming office, like Joe Biden did in Washington a few months ago, in the jaws of a pandemic the like of which India has not seen in recent memory. Death stalks us at every breath. You are inheriting a monstrous crisis in the shape of the virus’ surge. We, the people, have brought the second wave upon ourselves by our utterly callous response to the challenge.

We have gifted to you a victory. And a virus. You saw how, despite your entreaties, as your victory’s details were coming in, your joyous supporters converged in large numbers, wearing no masks, milling and mixing, to celebrate. I understand — and share — their happiness but where is the ganniyam Periyar taught us ? You will have to admonish us. You will have to do unpopular things. You will have to be brutally frank with us.

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But if you have inherited a monumental problem, you have also inherited a superb administrative tradition and a machine in the State that is among the best, most earnest and hard-working in our country. Test it with optimism and trust it with confidence, for there is a crisis at hand. Your officers are a great instrument at your disposal. They will give your vision and your inspiration shape.

Your calling for an across-the-board vaccination of all ‘above 18’, when the norm was ‘above 45’, showed your concern and we may expect you to bring vigour and momentum into the vaccination drive, with fairness at the heart of the drive. Please ask the Centre, as CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has done, for vaccines to be made available free to the State, as to all States, so that they can vaccinate us for free. But if that gesture does not come, please go ahead regardless of the cost to the State.

There is another ‘cost’ that I want to place before you. I say this not as a teetotaller or as prohibitionist. I say this as one who sees the virus finding an unwitting ally in TASMAC shops supplying liquor, mainly to those who should not be wasting their hard-earned money on alcohol. Please have these outlets shut at once, as a COVID-19 move.

Those in charge of implementing COVID-19 ameliorative and preventive measures in the State, and our amazing healthcare providers, have, over the last many months, been working with a zeal amounting to a passion. But a powerful, consistent and committed message from the political class did not come. The elections, which were all about massing people together, contradicted the requirement for distancing. Our estimable Governor made important interventions but then in our polity, the lead has to come from the leader.

And you are now that leader.

The situation now has reached a stage for brutal frankness. You must tell both your officers and us, the people, that if this second wave is to be tamed and a third and fourth wave are to be averted, it is imperative that we the people of your State be motivated and helped actively to get vaccinated and, equally important, mask up. And have oxygen supplies going. If this does not happen, Tamil Nadu will most definitely slide into the situation that Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka face. Thomas Abraham in The Hindu of April 30, 2021 has given telling statistics to show how the community can be turned from being suicidally mask-negligent to being sensibly mask-diligent. Tamil Nadu can be a game changer if it takes up mass mobilisation for vaccination, masking up and maintaining a steady line of oxygen supplies.

There is no escape from one or another form of lockdown. Uddhav Thackeray, the amazing Chief Minister of Maharashtra, like you, a first-time Chief Minister, has taken tough decisions. Please seek his advice. Maharashtra has been a distinct gainer in recent weeks because of its lockdowns. We know the deleterious effect of a shutdown, particularly on migrant labour, the informal sector and artisans. But if a total lockdown is wrong, free rein given to dangerous ‘openness’ is no less so.

Ten tangible steps

I will end now with how you can give the State the gift of a ‘new type of government’ through 10 tangible steps. One, you are a child of the Dravidian movement, which is the bedrock of your party. Give a dramatically new contemporary dimension to that movement by making it the voice, not just of Tamil aspirations, but the voice of the voiceless, the marginalised and the immiserated. Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court, Menaka Guruswamy, has described India as ‘the majority of minorities’. These minorities include ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities but go further to include all those who are vulnerable because of their numbers or situation. Make your government, in other words, a sanctuary for the culturally, economically and socially endangered.

Two, give the Opposition, which too has been returned to the Assembly in sizeable numbers, the unconditional respect that you wish had been given to you.

Three, make freedom of speech valued by your government as a democratic principle, a desideratum of Dravidian self-expression.

Four, make known your intolerance of corruption by exemplary action, sparing no one howsoever high or close.

Five, women and Dalits remain under-represented in the political pantheon. Please constitute two empowered panels of advisers on gender and Dalits and give them — and us, who observe them — a sense of their worth.

Six, give our farmers (including our fisherfolk) what the Swaminathan Commission has recommended.

Seven, make the protection of the natural and physical environment a priority, with polluters, exploiters and looters shown their place, with ‘developers’ told to leave commons and water bodies alone so as to prevent Chennai from the man-made flooding of a few years ago.

Eight, take a hard and urgent look at the condition of our prisons and of undertrials in them, most of who are likely to be innocent. They should not be where and how they are.

Nine, give the Right to Information Act the power it deserves. It will empower you in doing right.

Ten, reflect on each matter before you decide on it, with the Preamble to our Constitution as your guide.

May Tamil Nadu get, under your helmsmanship, a new type of government which Rajaji, Periyar, Kamaraj and Anna would acclaim, no less than your father, the late Kalaignar. And which, if I may add, a part of MGR’s un-resentful heart would also respond to.

Your fellow citizen,

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 7:01:48 PM |

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