TAMIL NADU: Widespread Protests against the Central & State Governments

Venkatesh Athreya

THE political situation in Tamil Nadu is currently characterised by massive protests against the central and state governments on a number of issues facing the people including the agrarian crisis, economic stagnation following demonetisation and GST introduction and the question of exempting the state from the NEET process. There have also been militant working class struggles, with an indefinite strike of more than a million government employees and teachers at all levels slated to commence on September 7. Most importantly, there is a political crisis, with the ruling government having lost the support of more than 20 MLAs elected on AIADMK ticket in the assembly elections of 2016. Our Party has been taking up these issues both through independent struggles and joint movements.

AIADMK GOVERNMENT LOSES MAJORITY

Just as we were completing a week long campaign on issues as per the call of the Central Committee of the Party from August 18-23, there were dramatic developments. 19 MLAs of the AIADMK owing allegiance to TTV Dinakaran met the governor (in-charge) of Tamil Nadu and submitted individual letters conveying the withdrawal of support to the chief minister Edappadi Palanisamy(EPS) and requesting early convening of the assembly to determine the support of the EPS government on the floor of the assembly. With this action, the ruling government was reduced to a minority in the state assembly. In an assembly of 234 members, the AIADMK (including three candidates of allied parties who contested on the AIADMK symbol) got 135 seats in the 2016 elections. With the size of the assembly reduced to 233 following the death of J Jayalalithaa, 117 seats constitute a majority. However, with the withdrawal of support by at least 20 members, the EPS led government has at most 113 members supporting it, leaving the speaker out of the reckoning. Even this strength was possible only because of a ‘merger’ of the factions owing allegiance respectively to former chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) and EPS on August 21 brokered by the BJP.  As recently as the beginning of August, OPS group was attacking the EPS government as steeped in corruption!

Leaders of DMK and Congress had written to the governor demanding the convening of the assembly. Leaders of CPI(M), CPI ,VCK and MMK had met the governor on August 23 and pointed out that the EPS government had lost its majority following the withdrawal of support by 19 MLAs of the ruling party. They pointed out that this had created a situation of political instability. They demanded that the majority of the government led by EPS be tested on the floor assembly as soon as possible. But the governor expressed the view that, since the 19 MLAs were still in the AIADMK, it cannot be said that EPS government had lost majority. Following this, the issue was taken up at the national level. A delegation of leaders of DMK (Kanimozhi), Congress (Anand Sharma) and Left Parties (Sitaram Yechury and D Raja) called on the president on August 31 to convey the view that the  governor in charge for Tamil Nadu was in error in not asking EPS to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly and seek the convening of the assembly to determine on the floor of the assembly whether the EPS led government had a majority or not. The president stated that continued political uncertainty in a state was not desirable and that he would look into the matter raised by the delegation.

NEET ISSUE

The issue of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) has become explosive in the state, thanks to the continued arrogance and intransigence of the central government in this regard.

Earlier this year, The Tamil Nadu Admission to MBBS and BDS Courses Act, 2017 and Tamil Nadu Admission to Post Graduate Courses in Medicine and Dentistry Act 2017 were passed on February 1, 2017 unanimously by the state assembly providing for admission on the basis of class 12 marks. These bills needed presidential assent to come into force. But the central government did not even forward the two bills to the president.

When it became clear that most candidates who had cleared the Tamil Nadu State Board class 12 exams with very high marks scored poorly on the NEET exam, the state government announced that 85 per cent of government college seats in MBBS/BDS will be based on performance in State Board class 12 exams. But the High Court declared this invalid. The Supreme Court confirmed the High Court judgment on August 11. On August 14, it was claimed that the central government had approved the draft of the ordinance sent by the state government exempting the state from NEET this year. But a group of CBSE students filed a petition in the Supreme Court on August 17 opposing the proposed exemption. When the case came up before a Supreme Court Bench of three judges, the Additional SG of GoI, Tushar Mehta argued that there were no legal infirmities in the ordinance giving exemption to Tamil Nadu from NEET this year. He also said that the ordinance will get approval before August 22 and come into effect immediately on such approval. But when the case came up before the Court on August 23, the ASG reversed his earlier stand and argued that it would be a bad precedent to grant NEET exemption to Tamil Nadu. The Court declined to grant exemption from NEET to Tamil Nadu and directed the state to select candidates for admission to MBBS/BDS on the basis of NEET scores.

Several political parties and many student organisations condemned the central government for its betrayal on NEET case in Supreme Court. The SFI called for state wide protests on August 24 to condemn this outcome. In a well attended protest meeting on August 24 in Chennai, addressed by DMK working president Stalin, TNCC chief Thirunavukkarasar, CPI(M) Tamil Nadu state secretary G Ramakrishnan, CPI secretary R Mutharasan, president of IUML Khader Mohideen, VCK president Thol Thirumavalavan and Jawahirulla, president of Manithaneya Makkal Katchi,  leaders condemned the AIADMK for mortgaging the rights of Tamils to the BJP which has humiliated the TN state legislature.  

The protests against NEET assumed an altogether new mass character after a young dalit female student committed suicide. Anitha, belonging to a poor family from the village of Kuzhumur not far from Ariyalur town, had secured 1196 out of 1200 marks in class 12 examinations. However, with her poor score in NEET, she lost the chance to join an undergraduate programme in medicine. This was after the BJP and AIADMK had created the impression widely that an exemption from NEET will be given to TN for this year. The state government had also declared that 85 per cent of admissions would be on the basis of marks secured in the class 12 State Board examinations, but this was overturned by the courts. Anitha, who had participated actively in the struggle against NEET in Tamil Nadu, and even impleaded herself as one of the respondents in a case challenging NEET in the Supreme Court, was heart-broken at her dreams of becoming a doctor being shattered. She committed suicide on September 1. This has caused mass grief and anger in the state against the state and central ruling parties and governments. Protests broke out spontaneously across the state. The CPI(M) and several other political parties, as well as student and youth organisations including  SFI and DYFI actively participated in the protests. The popular mood turned sharply against the BJP in the days following this tragic event.The CPI(M) staged a picketing protest in Chennai on September 2. G Ramakrishnan, speaking at the rally, stated that the state government had lost the right to continue in office. The betrayal by the BJP in the matter of securing the consent of the central government for the ordinance exempting the state from NEET this year, was widely condemned.

Opposition parties in the state, barring the PMK, have come together on this issue. An all Party meeting will be held in Tiruchirapalli on September 8 to protest the grievous loss of young Anita’s life as a result of the failure of the state government to secure exemption for Tamil Nadu from NEET and the betrayal of the BJP government at the centre in the matter. Noting that the standing committee of the parliament for the department of health and family welfare of the central government had stated in its report that NEET can be conducted in those states that were willing to do so, leaving out states that were not willing, the meeting pointed out that BJP was arrogantly pushing NEET across the entire country with no regard for the rights of the states. Faced with massive student protests earlier, Nirmala Sitharaman of BJP had announced publicly that if the state seeks exemption from NEET for the current year through an ordinance, the centre would give its approval.  But the BJP betrayed this promise. The state ruling party leaders were more concerned with protecting their positions of power and pelf and so went along with BJP’S betrayal while giving false hopes to students till the last moment. The all-party public meeting at Tiruchirapalli will demand permanent exemption for Tamil Nadu from NEET and return of education to the state list from the concurrent list through appropriate amendments in the laws of the land.

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