Stalin’s Rise, Cyclone Gaja: Events That Shaped Tamil Nadu in 2018

As 2018 ends, here’s a look back at events that shaped the discourse in Tamil Nadu.

6 min read

Over the course of the past year, Tamil Nadu has been a witness to several events, from the mass police shooting of civilians to a destructive natural calamity. Actors’ fan-clubs-turned-political-groups and activists working on various environmental issues have sparked a spirited discourse and, in some cases, evoked deafening silence. TNM brings you a list of events and issues that shaped Tamil Nadu in 2018.

1. Death of Karunanidhi and the Rise of MK Stalin

On 7 August, five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of India’s tallest political leaders passed away in Chennai after prolonged illness. While he had been out of active politics for nearly two years owing to his ill health, his death spelled the end of an era in Tamil Nadu politics. He was remembered for his contributions to Tamil cinema and literature, in addition to welfare schemes and strengthening federalism in the country.

Having served as the President of the DMK from 1969, Karunanidhi’s death paved way for his son MK Stalin to be elected as the chief and take full control of the party.

Having worked his way up the ranks for over 40 years, Stalin inherited a party with a historic legacy and a grassroots cadre network. With little competition from within the party, Stalin has consolidated his power with his loyalists in key positions, answerable to him and no one else. He has drawn the battle lines as the General Elections approach, making it clear that his primary goal is to decimate the ruling AIADMK in the state and the BJP at the Centre.

2. Thoothukudi Massacre

In one of the deadliest police shootings seen in recent years, 13 civilians were gunned down by the police in Thoothukudi on the 100th day of the anti-Sterlite protests. While protests against the plant and the pollution caused by it have been held for over two decades by environmental activists, the copper smelter’s plans to expand prompted a three-month-long sit-in protest by activists and villagers in the southern district. The unprecedented police shootings to quell protesters – who had gathered in the thousands – received international condemnation. The tragedy wrecked several families in Thoothukudi, who had merely called attention to a toxic industry that had contaminated their drinking water and air.

The Tamil Nadu government justified the shootings as a ‘natural reaction’ to the provocation of ‘anti-social elements’. It received widespread criticism for failing to secure the closure of the Sterlite plant at the National Green Tribunal.

The tragedy shook the collective conscience of Tamil Nadu even as investigators are yet to charge police officers involved.

However, the state government has since been forced to take a strong stand against the re-opening of the plant after it was shut down.


3. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan in Active Politics

While both the top stars from Kollywood had announced their entry into politics in 2017, this year saw them make their way into the active political landscape in the state. With political gaffes, controversial press conferences and churn in their fan bases, Tamil Nadu witnessed a ‘political’ Rajinikanth and the ‘politician’ Kamal Haasan in 2018. Haasan launched his ‘neo-Dravidian’ Makkal Needhi Maiam in February while Rajinikanth has been on a membership drive for his political outfit, the Rajini Makkal Mandram. The actors, however, have continued to dabble in cinema, refusing to leave it just yet, and 2019 could see them more involved in politics.

4. Cauvery Verdict and its Aftermath

The centuries-long dispute over sharing of water from river Cauvery was finally settled by the Supreme Court in February this year, modifying the award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. However, the verdict mandated for a scheme to be framed by the central government to ensure the implementation of the verdict as well to carry out the rights of the states. With the six-week deadline elapsing, the Centre’s delay provoked protests across the state, with several political parties slamming the AIADMK government for not securing a favourable verdict. The Cauvery Water Management Authority was finally set up in June.


5. MLAs’ Disqualification Case

The state was witness to two key disqualification cases involving MLAs. One, involved Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam who, along with ten supporting MLAs had voted against a confidence motion moved by CM Edappadi Palaniswami. The warring factions had united in August last year. However, the DMK petitioned the court pointing out that 11 MLAs had defected. In April this year, the Madras High Court had rejected the DMK’s plea to disqualify OPS and his team of MLAs.

The second and perhaps the more significant case involved 18 MLAs pledging their loyalty to RK Nagar MLA TTV Dhinakaran. The group of MLAs met then-Governor Vidyasagar Rao and filed individual petitions, expressing a lack of confidence in the CM. The MLAs who were disqualified by Speaker P Dhanapal on 18 September moved the Madras High Court. While a two-judge delivered a split verdict, the case was referred to a third judge who upheld the disqualification by the Speaker. With the 18 seats falling vacant and two more – following the deaths of the party legislator AK Bose and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi – the state awaits 20 bypolls.


6. TTV Dhinakaran’s Party Launch

Months after the union of the factions headed by Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam in the ruling AIADMK, RK Nagar MLA and ousted AIADMK Deputy General Secretary TTV Dhinakaran launched his political party in Madurai – the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam – with the pressure cooker symbol. Dhinakaran, who proved himself a formidable foe with his electoral success in the RK Nagar bypoll, formerly held by the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, initially saw plenty crowds in his rallies. TTV, as he is popularly known, has been building a campaign slamming both the BJP at the Centre as well as the AIADMK in the state, while also battling the defection of close aide Senthil Balaji to the DMK.

7. The Nirmala Devi Scandal

In April, Tamil Nadu woke up to a shocking sex scandal that smeared the highest levels of government and the Raj Bhavan. Nirmala Devi, a faculty member of the Devanga Arts college in Virudhunagar was heard on tape luring students to provide sexual favours for a ‘very senior official’ of the Madurai Kamaraj University to which the college is affiliated. Nirmala Devi’s recorded calls also alluded to the Governor. The scandal forced Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit to clear the air and appoint a committee to look into the charges. Even as opposition parties have called for a CBI probe, the CBCID investigation has raised questions for failing to nab the senior management of the university.


8. Salem-Chennai Expressway

One of the most-talked about infrastructure projects that saw sustained protests this year, the Chennai-Salem Greenfield Corridor, aims to reduce traffic time between the two districts from 6 hours to 3 hours. However, the government sought several acres of prime agricultural lands and homes, prompting a protest by farmers along the proposed route. The project, which requires a total of 2,791 hectares, is also riddled with allegations of procedural lapses and environmental destruction.

After the project created a furore in the state, the Madras High Court issued a crucial clarification regarding land acquisition for the project, asking the state not to dispossess landowners of their property.

9. Cyclone Gaja Wreaks Havoc

November 2018 was marked by the destructive Cyclone Gaja, that wreaked havoc across the coastal and delta districts of Tamil Nadu, taking with it the lives of 65 people, and livelihoods of thousands. The cyclone made landfall near Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district in the wee hours of 16 November. After the landfall, it moved to interior Tamil Nadu where it caused extensive damage to crops and property, and cut off electrical, telecommunication and road connectivity to the districts. With over 3 lakh people displaced from their homes, the worst affected districts included Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Pudukkottai, and Thiruvarur as well as Karaikal district of Puducherry.

(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute)

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