With Good Politics and Better Economics, Amma Set to Acquire Recognition Beyond Her State
The wattage of power doesn’t always electrify the gilded chair of prominence in an office or an institution. Leaders derive their authority from their ability to lead and deliver. She may have been out of office for a while, but her power or acceptability has not been lost, either among the cadres of her party, AIADMK, or a large number of people from within and outside her state, Tamil Nadu. The coming week is likely to see 67-year-old J Jayalalithaa back on the throne at Fort St. George, Chennai. Her fatigued foes may question her acquittal by the high court, but the reality is that Amma has retained her halo of invincibility in the state. Her followers and admirers trust her for her decisive demeanour, charismatic appeal and ability to provide a responsive government. The congratulatory call Narendra Modi made to her soon after the high court verdict was not just a casual courtesy. Rarely does a Prime Minister call up a state leader after he or she wins a legal battle involving motivated graft charges. But Modi knows Jayalalithaa’s importance in both state and national politics. Controlling 48 MPs in both Houses of Parliament, Jaya can make or mar the survival chances of numerous legislative drives. By all indications, she is going to stage a grand comeback in the Assembly elections due in 2016. Pollsters are betting on her victory because the ground-level feedback reflects a tsunamic endorsement of her policies. Most people feel that she has delivered on almost all the 170-odd promises made in the 2011 state elections.
Amma’s indispensability lies not just in the numbers she controls, but also in her model of governance, which is akin to Modi’s in Gujarat earlier and now applied nationwide. Jayalalithaa is not attached to any institutionalised ideology or dogma. Her administrative direction and the nature of policies clearly indicate that she has genuinely pursued the philosophy of a welfare state in which the poor and the marginalised get priority. After 33 years in active politics, she is very much aware of the social, economic and political complexities of her state. Jayalalithaa began her administrative innings as the in-charge of the Mid-day Meal Scheme started by K Kamaraj in the 1960s and expanded exponentially by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran in 1982. She made a huge success of the scheme, which was the first of its kind to be launched in India. Since then, she has always been in favour of allocating more money to schemes and projects, which benefit the poorest of the poor. For example, during the past four years, she has taken special interest in launching schemes that provide essential commodities at highly subsidised prices, so that the underclass does not suffer from inflationary pressures. Endeavours like Amma Canteen provide breakfast of idlis, sambhar and rice to over 10 lakh persons at Rs 1-5. This was followed by yet another initiative, the Amma Mineral Water Project, which provides clean potable water. As chief minister, Jayalalithaa also ensured that the middle and lower middle class get cement below the prevailing market rate. A limited number of cement bags costing Rs 190 each was made available to those constructing state-approved homes. She also ensured that besides being assured of water and food, the people of Tamil Nadu could also buy medicines at reasonable prices. She opened Amma Pharmacies in the state, which sell drugs at highly subsidised prices.
The astute administrator didn’t confine herself to distributing dole. During the past four years, Jaya filled a large number of vacancies in the state government, providing employment to jobless degree holders. For example, over 70,000 teachers were recruited to shorten the instruction gap in schools. There is hardly any sector which hasn’t received attention and financial support from her government. Myriad infrastructure projects, including roads, power plants, drainage, sewage lines, school buildings and the linking of rivers to improve irrigation facilities got liberal funds from the state.
Jaya’s short absence from Fort St. George had put the brakes on the implementation of her development agenda. Though Amma is a loner by nature, her bureaucracy has been stupendously successful in creating a favourable investment climate for big business. Jaya’s Vision 2023 expects an investment of $250 billion flowing into Tamil Nadu. The state accounts for 25 per cent of the national automobile output with major international corporations such as Nissan, Hyundai and BMW setting up manufacturing units there. Tamil Nadu also contributes about 18 per cent of India’s electronic goods production with the top MNCs like DELL, Samsung, Foxconn operating in the state. It is because of such a favourable investment environment that FDI had increased from $1.2 billion during 2010-11 to over $2.8 billion during the last year in the state.
Jayalalithaa has enough political clout as a popular powerhouse. Now she is determined to acquire economic superstar status as well. Already Tamil Nadu contributes 8.25 per cent of the GDP, second only to Maharashtra. It has been the fastest growing state in terms of Gross State Domestic Product. It is the state government’s fabulous fiscal management, however, which has wiped out its revenue deficit in a mere span of the past four years. When Jayalalithaa took over as CM, the deficit was Rs 3,000 crore. Last year it had a surplus of over Rs 600 crore. Surprisingly, despite splurging on social welfare schemes, Tamil Nadu is perhaps one of the few states, which have shown a healthy improvement in revenue collection. Its own tax yield as percentage of GSDP grew from a little over 8 per cent in 2010 to 11 per cent during 2013-14. In absolute terms, the state’s total revenue collection witnessed a 100 per cent increase during AIADMK’s rule, clearly indicating that significant leakages had been blocked.
Encouraged by her huge success on the political and development front, Amma has emerged as a leader who knows how to provide a pragmatic mix of good politics with better economics. Like Modi, Jayalalithaa is blessed with great oratory skills and the unquestioned loyalty of her supporters. In Modi’s new mantra of Cooperative Federalism, a powerful leader like her can play the role of both a spoiler and a supercharger. With her political rivals at home paralysed by her popularity, Jayalalithaa is now a regional leader who is all set to acquire recognition and influence beyond the geographical boundaries of her state. Modi has correctly studied the direction of the wind and wasted no time in connecting with her. He dialled the right number—One.
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