The current debate over the bifurcation of Tamil Nadu to carve out the ‘Kongu Nadu’ region is due to the clash of terminologies after the DMK government addressed the Centre as the ‘Union government’ in the spirit of constructive collaboration and state autonomy.
For the DMK, batting for state autonomy is the way to keep overreach by the Centre in check. From the times of CN Annadurai, the first DMK chief minister to those of Kalaignar Karunanidhi, the party has stood in the way of several Central governments that have tried to take away state rights, or take decisions arbitrarily in violation of the spirit of cooperative federalism.
The post-Karunanidhi DMK, under MK Stalin, had been hitting out on a daily basis against this particular strain: a timid state government of the AIADMK under an authoritative Centre. From hydrocarbon extraction to medical entrance tests to 8-lane highways, the protest sentiment that the DMK had propagated had internalised the theme that the state should have a much stronger voice.
In line with its pre-election stance, the DMK government, after winning handsomely in the Assembly polls, had advanced the thought that the appropriate term to refer to the Central government is ‘Union government’. In the Assembly on June 24, chief minister Stalin defended the adoption of the term, drawing constitutional backing to the usage.
The debate carried momentum, largely on social media, after a Tamil newspaper carried an article speculating about a plan to carve out the Kongu region (western belt of Tamil Nadu) into a separate territory as an aftermath of the confrontational attitude of the DMK. The controversy brings back focus on the DMK’s history of seeking out a separate state (Dravida Nadu), and points out as to why the party brought up the ‘Union government’ debate post elections.
Even as the debate over the bifurcation intensifies, and sentiments run high, a familiar feeling is creeping up on political observers and health activists. Vast swathes of the population remain unvaccinated, while several thousand await their second dose against Covid-19. Tamil Nadu’s vaccination graph shows peaks and plunges because of the erratic supply of vaccines. For example, in mid-June, there have been days when over 30 districts did not hold caps due to unavailability of vaccine. A plan for commercial production of vaccines at the HLL Biotech factory remains merely on paper.
Health experts say they believe the bifurcation debate is being used to distract people from the larger issue of the state’s preparedness for the imminent third wave.