It is difficult to discern the rights and the wrongs of a matter if its setting is Tamil Nadu. The state is highly politicized, but the politics is limited to two well-worn grooves. One is the groove of Ms J. Jayalalithaa’s actions, the other is that of the deadly rivalry between the chief minister’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Mr M. Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. A shared attribute between these two parties is the love for dramatics, not surprising since the chiefs have come into politics from show business. A love for high visibility tends to obscure issues concerned with hard governance, with politics and social conflict. So when Mr Karunanidhi calls for the rescue of democracy, it is not always necessary to jump to attention. But this time it seems he has some reason. Fired by the legal success of her decision to dismiss all striking government employees, Ms Jayalalithaa now wishes to derecognize government employees’ and teachers’ unions.
But the Supreme Court stricture against strikes did not question the validity of unions or associations. It merely stated that strikes were not to be considered a valid way of collective bargaining, striking work was not a fundamental right and breaching the fundamental rights of others was not acceptable in a democracy. By derecognizing unions, the Tamil Nadu chief minister is poised to undermine the rights of labour. There may be something in her opponent’s fear that the next step would be the derecognition of trade unions. The fact that there has suddenly been a spate of raids by the anti-corruption force on the houses of three former DMK ministers, Mr Karunanidhi is inclined to take lightly. After the controversial episode of his own midnight arrest, it is easy for him to comment casually on the political motivation behind such forays. It is a pity that Ms Jayalalithaa never knows when to stop. Her success in the courts has to be followed by an excess that would make her position unviable. And repeated charges of corruption against her rivals will only end up masking corruption or confusing the issue. Possibly she does not mind, as long as uninterrupted dramatics get her what she wants.