Purohit means a priest in Sanskrit. What kind of rites does this Purohit of a governor intend performing, observers wonder.
Following closely in the footsteps of Ms Kiran Bedi in the Puducherry enclave, Mr Banwarilal Purohit seems to be positioning himself as a supra constitutional authority in Tamil Nadu.
Ms Bedi might be kicking up a lot of dust in the hope of catching the eyes of the Centre and being moved to a bigger state ‘befitting’ her stature. The Modi regime or the BJP doesn’t have much of a stake over there in that sliver of a territory.
But Tamil Nadu is a different ballgame altogether, sending as it does as many as 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha. So whatever Mr Purohit does should be at the instance of New Delhi and not some egotistical adventure.
And he has always known which side is greener. In his long political career, he has not only jumped from the Congress to the BJP, but also was running for a while his own outfit, Vidharbha Rajya Party, albeit without success. In this avatar, Purohit seems intent on fishing in troubled waters and promoting the interests of the BJP, which has only a miniscule presence.
Governor Purohit’s recent impromptu review meeting with senior officials at Coimbatore, state ministers themselves conspicuously absent, has created a huge controversy, and almost all the opposition parties are unanimous in condemning the meeting. But ironically, the ruling AIADMK and its ministers have not hesitated to welcome the governor’s “pro-active” efforts to develop the state – and they call themselves followers of the late Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader) Jayalalitha who was known for her firm stands against encroachment of powers by the Centre.
Indeed Jayalalitha’s squabbles with the then Governor Channa Reddy in the early nineties turned ugly and she went to the extent of accusing Channa Reddy of misbehaving with her. That is, she could go to any length to assert herself and take on however high and mighty, but her ‘followers’ wouldn’t like to remember that in the course of evolution we all developed a spine as well.
The mystery of their enthusiastic endorsement of Governor’s review meetings might intrigue many. But insiders who are in the know of things say that the ministers wouldn’t allow anything to come in the way of their political survival, with all its attendant perks. One more day in power means a lot for them.
Previously when Jaya was in power, the Chief Minister was getting a lion’s share of it all, and her ministers had to content themselves whatever was allowed their way. But in her absence, satraps wield unchallenged sway over their respective fiefdoms and don’t think they are accountable to anyone else, least of all to Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy.
But the ruling regime at the Centre is a different story altogether. You rub them the wrong way, and everything will come down crashing down, they know very well – why kill the golden goose when they can keep collecting the eggs for another four years, hopefully, by being suitably obsequious.
As pointed out by the Hindu in its editorial yesterday, “Article 167 of the Constitution says it is the Chief Minister’s duty to communicate to the Governor all decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to the administration and proposals for legislation. It enjoins the Chief Minister to furnish such information relating to the administration as the Governor may call for. If Mr. Purohit wants to understand how schemes are being implemented, he can seek details from the Chief Minister, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, instead of holding meetings in the districts.”
Though the BJP leaders claim that Governor only wants a firsthand understanding of the state’s administration and that there is nothing sinister in the review move, the Governor’s powers are very limited and the constitution doesn’t permit him to take any decision without the advice of the council of ministers.
When the 1988 Janaki government fell, the then governor, P.C.Alexander used to receive petitions from the public directly. One such petition was from the widow of a victim of the notorious Auto Shankar. Alexander ensured a prompt investigation and the don was finally hanged. Alexander received petitions directly from the public and issued instructions to the officials in his capacity as Governor, but all that only in the absence of an elected government, we must remember.
At the moment though there is an elected government in place in Tamil Nadu which prevents the governor acting all on his own, without guidance or consent from the elected executive. The governor neither enjoys any independent administrative nor political powers to announce a scheme or even order a simple renovation work. The governor’s unilateral review meeting in the absence of such powers was clearly politically motivated. But it is a moot point why the need for any such intimidation when the government is dancing to the Centre’s tunes even otherwise.
The BJP which is in power in 18 states wants to extend its wings in Tamil Nadu which has continued to elude it all these decades. Mr Purohit is part of a wider BJP conspiracy to dismantle or destroy all regional parties before the 2019 parliamentary elections, it is claimed.
Well, Jayalalitha’s demise has raised the BJP’s hopes – the AIADMK without the forbidding lady around could be easy killing and the remainder could be swallowed up easily, they might have thought. But the rebellion of TTV Dinakaran, whose following is considerably increasing among AIADMK cadres, is already putting spokes in the BJP’s larger game plan.
The saffronites seem to have understood the bitter reality that the EPS-OPS combo is a sinking ship and even with two leaves, the party might not be able to shore up their fortunes. The vast cadre base of the AIADMK is surely, even if slowly, swaying towards TTV Dinakaran, it is widely felt. The latter himself is playing his cards adroitly, even the recent marathon Income Tax raids on Sasikala and her clan failing to dent his image much.
With all plans of the BJP’s master planner Amit Shah failing thus far in Tamil Nadu, the patience of BJP has run out, and it could be preparing the ground to topple Edappadi government.
With every passing day, it is growing unpopular among the people and the inputs from intelligence agencies, sources say, have warned that any alliance with the AIADMK led by EPS-OPS duo would not gain much traction at the hustings.
So desperate to try branch out on their own, Purohit has been unleashed. The unilateral review meeting of the governor, and his follow-up announcement that he would tour all the districts and conduct review meetings everywhere is a clear indication of things to come. The next step by Banwarilal could be to summon crucial files regarding tenders, award of contracts etc.
The state electricity board is already in trouble relating to a 256 crore electricity meter tender, which the Madras High Court has stayed. While the firm which approached the court says that its tender for supply of meters has been rejected in favour of other firms unfairly, the power minister Thangamani has claimed that no tender has been finalized in the issue. DMK working president Stalin, for his part, claimed that the tender floated for supply of power meters smacked of corruption and some powerful forces were at work.
Possibly Mr Purohit would go all out to embarrass the current dispensation no end and that could help the BJP to arm-twist the AIADMK into ceding lion’s share of seats in the next assembly elections.
But such a strategy could be as stupid as it can get, for you don’t damage a party’s reputation and then expect it to get you votes.
Some claim that the BJP would actually like to see the AIADMK dissolve sooner than later, and the cadres switch over to itself. But then it is too far-fetched a reading and even more stupid.
The stupidity is now compounded with the raids on the Poes Garden residence itself. AIADMK cadres and supporters are unlikely to see this merely as a strike at the Sasikala clan. The BJP, carried away by its vaulting ambitions, might have crossed an unacceptable line.
So how would it all pan out? Difficult to say. All that we know at the moment is that Modi and his lieutenants are determined to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the AIADMK while Edappadi and co might go on acting as if nothing unusual is happening. They have already blamed the clan’s own machinations for the Poes Garden raids.
As we go to publication there are reports that a room is being readied for Goverrnor Purohit right in the state secretariat!
A major casualty in all this ugly developments is federalism and the state’s own much vaunted spirit of autonomy.