In the recent days, we have seen Tamil Nadu evolving as a state that doesn’t take things for granted. Though the present political circumstances may not be in favour of the larger mass, people have learnt their way to rise against injustice, question the authorities and if required, even stage protests and demonstrations to make their voice heard.
In the wake of a similar rising, a Chennai-based group called Arappor Iyakkam, organised a Coffee Meet with MLAs of Tamil Nadu. The purpose of this event was for the public to raise their voice and question the MLAs whom they voted, about their actions over the last few months and the present political state as taken over by corrupt leaders.
Arappor Iyakkam, which means Righteous War in Tamil, is an anti-corruption group which aims to achieve a just and equitable society with their activities.
Forgoing their Sunday morning relaxation, organisers, student volunteers, resident associations and civilians began gathering at the Valluvar Kottam in Chennai around 9 am. Even the tribals from around Coimbatore came all the way to question their MLAs about the land-grabbing issue.The group had invited the 122 MLAs who were lodged in the resorts of Koovathur while the Sasikala vs. OPS battle was raging. The tribals from around Coimbatore also came to question their MLA about the land-grabbing issue. With all the arrangements in place and duties designated to student groups from across the city, people anxiously awaited the arrival of the MLAs, but as expected they were in for a letdown. Not even one of the 122 MLAs turned up.The MLAs who were at the feet of their voters during the election did not listen to the people’s voice and instead gave into the hands of a family, which has been convicted on charges of corruption. The MLAs had stayed away from their own voters in a Koovathur resort which was a clear
The MLAs who were at the feet of their voters during the election did not listen to the people’s voice and instead gave into the hands of a family, which has been convicted on charges of corruption. The MLAs had stayed away from their own voters in a Koovathur resort which was a clear breach of democracy. This event was aimed to seek answers from the MLAs on all such actions and to free the state from the “Mafia” rule. The events following former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death had set off a raging battle for power and the public wanted to know why the MLAs did not seek the opinion of their constituents before deciding to opt for Sasikala. After all, they were elected by their constituencies as the people’s representatives.
The invites were sent ten days ago through registered posts, and in addition to this, organisers say, they had called the MLAs, sent text messages and emails as reminders for the event on Saturday. By not turning up, the MLAs just further reinstated the fact that they were hesitant in facing public scrutiny because somewhere deep down, they even knew that they had let the public down. Surprisingly, the organisers received anonymous threatening calls asking them to stop this event from taking place, but they brushed it and laughed it off as they often do with such threats.
However, their absence didn’t disparage the spirit of the hundreds of people who had gathered. The crowd consisted of citizens of all age group along with students, youth, and a few eminent socialites and artists.
Out of the few speakers who addressed the gathering was the Carnatic vocalist and social activist TM Krishna. “This is the first time that civilians must have gathered without fear in an area to question their MLAs”, he said. “We will murder the concept. It will be a murder of a democracy if we don’t ask questions to our elected representatives questions every day. Before the elections, we need to check the candidate’s background to see if they are worthy of our vote. These MLAs are not bigger than the people,” he added.
An all women’s play performed the song ‘paatu padava paatu kekeva’ (Shall I sing a song, shall I listen to a song?) with lyrics changed as questions directed at MLAs. They belong to the Voice of the People group, and their skit was on how these politicians canvas for votes.
The organisers were prepared for a no show by the MLAs, and they had promptly kept a mock question-answer session ready with some of them donning the MLA mask and taking the stage. But the most exciting part was when the organisers called a few MLAs and put them on a loudspeaker. Some lines were busy, whereas some calls went unanswered and others answered by their PAs.
The speakers urged the people gathered to not give up on their democratic and Constitutional rights and continue seeking answers from the elected leaders. The gathering was encouraged to actively be a part of politics and be aware — not just electoral politics but people’s politics. They were urged to understand that MLAs elected by people are answerable and accountable to us and we have no reason to fear them but we should regularly question their actions and let them know that we are the boss and they are public servants and not the other way around.
“When we called the MLAs to invite them for this event, several of them didn’t pick up. Of the few who did, MLA Benjamin actually abused us and asked if we are Pakistanis. The reason they didn’t come here today is because they are scared. They are being made accountable for their actions and they don’t know how to answer the people,” said Jayaram Venkatesan, one of the organizers, in the event. Founders of Arappor Iyakkam, listed the corruption charges and illegal wealth that has been acquired by Sasikala and members of her family. “This kind of an organized crime is what makes them a Mafia”, he said, their agenda being to usurp the wealth of the state. “We need to know why the MLAs are supporting them despite knowing their criminal records”. No media, journalist, judiciary, police or celebrities are willing to speak against them or expose them. Why so? “We need to back them and show them our support in order to make them speak up if they are feeling threatened”, he told the people gathered.
Later, in an exclusive interview with The Logical Indian, Mr Chandra Mohan, one of the founders of Arappor Iyakkam said, “Our agenda was to bring accountability to the people through this event. Since our formation a year-and-a-half back, we have addressed several problems including the drafting of the Lokayukta bill. We want to involve the citizens and make them a part of a movement that will bring around effective governance.”
What started initially with 25 like-minded members gained momentum and set a precedence in the state. “But this show belonged to the youth and they took complete ownership of it. We just initiated it and guided the volunteers”, added Mr Mohan.
“We didn’t expect the MLAs to turn up because they know they are guilty and they fear the people. And this is exactly what we want them to feel and realize that we will not let them go scot free,” said Mr Mohan. “They cannot take the mandate for granted. And they should know that the people are here to keep them in check and will do so. We must not stop asking them questions and demand explanations. When we citizens/civilians come together, there is nothing we can’t achieve. The Jallikattu protest is an example of that, and this meet has to be another reminder to them of the people’s power”, added Mr Mohan.
When asked how this idea of a holding a meeting occurred to them, he said, “Even a year back we had organised a meeting called “Ask Chennai Ask” where the aim was to save Chennai’s water bodies. We pressurised the government to do an audit of Chennai’s water bodies.” That event was attended by MLAs, Corporation officials, common people and some experts on a common platform with the agenda to save the city’s water bodies were discussed and questioned by the people. “That was a success as people/civilians brought forth their complaints regarding the water problems in their area and this was compiled and given to the corporation and some work was started.” So taking it from there we came up with this format we hope this format catches up in with the other states as well and becomes a nationwide phenomenon.”
With Tamil Nadu leading the way, what the nation needs now is people from other states to stand up to their MLAs and say that they are not afraid of them, but it is their right to question the MLAs’ actions and that they will. The MLAs are public servants and are answerable to the citizens and should do as is expected of them to fulfil their responsibilities towards their constituencies. The MLAs may not have turned up for their cup of coffee but the people who did, represented the brewing of a whole new movement. This should slowly give rise to a new and effective governance and become means of achieving transparency in the system and keep corruption in check.