Cong., Left lock horns with Jayalalithaa

Chennai April 9. The Tamil Nadu Assembly plunged into a noisy chaos for nearly 20 minutes today as the Congress and the Left parties locked horns with the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, and staged a walkout, boycotting proceedings for most part of the day.

With the DMK deciding to boycott the session, it was the Congress and the Left parties which took up cudgels against the AIADMK on three different issues. First, the Congress walked out, after loudly protesting the AIADMK regime's attempts at quelling the proposed government employees' strike through "intimidatory tactics".

Then, the Left parties followed suit, protesting the Chief Minister's charge in the House yesterday that the ruling CPI (M) in West Bengal was consistently rigging polls.

Trouble began immediately after the House assembled this morning, when the Congress Legislature Party leader, S.R. Balasubramaniam, asked the Speaker, K. Kalimuthu, to take up discussions on two vital issues of importance: the failure of talks between the Government and the employees' unions and the proposed demolition of the Queen Mary's College here.

While the Speaker rejected permission, the Chief Minister said she would make the Government's stand clear on the strike after consulting officials in the afternoon. As she was busy preparing for the reply to the demand for grants for the Home department, she could not discuss the issue with the Chief Secretary and the Finance Secretary, who had held talks with representatives of the employees unions. As for the QMC demolition issue, she said the matter was before the High Court and hence, could not be discussed in the House.

But Mr. Balasubramaniam asked how the Government could threaten to jail employees for three years under the Essential Services Maintenance Act when it had not finalised its decision on the unions' demands for restoring pension and gratuity benefits.

"The Chief Minister's explanation is not satisfactory," Mr. Balasubramaniam said, only to be booed by the ruling party benches.

"If you can't be patient till the afternoon, the Government cannot help it," Ms. Jayalalithaa shot back. The chorus of shouts from the Treasury Benches peaked, prompting an angry Mr. Balasubramaniam to announce a boycott of the day's proceedings, after condemning the attitude of the ruling partymen.

`Withdraw allegation'

Moments later, the CPI(M) leader, J. Hemachandran, loudly protested Ms. Jayalalithaa's diatribe against the communists, and demanded that she withdraw the allegation that the CPI(M)'s winning streak in West Bengal was only due to booth rigging. "How can a Chief Minister of a State make a charge against a Chief Minister of another State and its Assembly?" But, Ms. Jayalalithaa countered, saying she had only levelled a charge against the party and not against the West Bengal Assembly.

The Speaker also ruled that "yesterday's debate ended with yesterday" and it could not be raked up again.

Meanwhile, the other communist MLAs joined the protest, asking how could she say their triumph was achieved by fraudulent means. "What is the proof for the charge?" the CPI (M)'s K. Balabarathi, shouted.

The CPI leader, G. Palanichamy, deplored the Chief Minister's statement only to be greeted with shouts from ruling party benches. Immediately, an angry Mr. Palanichamy protested: "How can the ruling party MLAs address me in singular terms and ask me to go out of the House. Do you think it is a slanging match between the DMK and the AIADMK?"

Instantly, Ms. Jayalalithaa signalled her party MLAs to exercise restraint and so did the Leader of the House, C. Ponnaiyan. As the din appeared to wane, the CPI (M) members, especially Ms. Balabarathi, began shouting slogans, asking the Chief Minister to withdraw the charge.

As sloganeering continued for a while, the Speaker named Ms. Balabarathi and asked her to leave the House without making noise. In the lobby too, the communists continued to shout slogans for a while until the watch and ward staff cleared them out.

`Hit and run parties'

Later, ridiculing the absence of the Opposition MLAs, particularly of the DMK, the Chief Minister described them as "hit and run" parties. Replying to the debate on the grants for the Home department, she said: "They (DMK members) fling totally baseless allegations and run away from the House when I present my replies. What sort of democracy is this?"