After deciding just a week ago not to move the articulate first-time Minister P.T.R. Palanivel Thiaga Rajan out of the Finance portfolio, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin shifted him to the less-important Information Technology Ministry in a minor Cabinet reshuffle. Dairy Development Minister S.M. Naser was the only Minister dropped, and three-time MLA T.R.B. Rajaa was brought into the Cabinet.
Rajaa, son of T.R. Baalu, DMK’s parliamentary party leader, has been given the heavy portfolio of Industries, which is normally reserved for senior ministers. The current Industries Minister, Thangam Thennarasu, has been shifted to the Finance Ministry (and Human Resources Management). He will be in charge of Finance, Planning, Human Resources Management, Pensions and Pensionary Benefits, Statistics, and Archaeology.
The other major Ministry handled by Thennarasu, Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture, has been given to the Information and Publicity Minister, M.P. Saminathan. The minister who was handling the Information Technology, T. Mano Thangaraj, has been moved as Minister for Milk and Dairy Development.
What do the changes mean?
The changes have enhanced the importance of the cleanest Minister in the Cabinet, Thangam Thennarasu, who is now virtually the spokesperson of the Cabinet, the government, and the party. In the two years that Thennarasu has acted as the party’s spokesperson, he has consistently made it clear that the leader and the party are more important than him or his position. Despite the massive problems associated with handling a tough Ministry such as Finance, Thennarasu has retained Archeology because several important projects, including the Thanjavur Museum, are close to completion.
PTR was cut to size following the surreptitious recording of his outbursts against the first family (which PTR has denied). The DMK leadership is now aware of how the whole episode unfolded and who were the people/firms involved in this process. One senior DMK functionary pointed out that the argument that “if PTR was removed what he said would be construed as true” did not hold water merely because PTR, a junior Minister, did not know enough. Even if the tapes were true, at best, the conversation was based on hearsay and not because he was well-informed about many issues.
From this Cabinet expansion, if there is one Minister who is rather happy, it is Mano Thangaraj. This is because he now has a Ministry where he can finally have a direct impact on his constituents in Kanyakumari. With the earlier IT portfolio, Mano has been effective in organising several cutting-edge events, but these had no connection with the people of Kanyakumari–a constant worry for him both as an MLA and a DMK district secretary of the party.
The changes have disproportionately rewarded Rajaa and Saminathan. Rajaa is a newcomer, and like Anbil Mahesh in 2021, he has been given a major Ministry without handling a smaller Ministry first.
Saminathan’s performance has not been regarded as stellar by his colleagues or political observers in the State. However, his importance lies in being one of the most loyal deputies to M.K. Stalin. He previously held the post of DMK youth wing leader when Stalin assumed higher responsibilities in the party. Saminathan kept the chair warm for Stalin’s son, Udayanidhi, who is now the leader of the Youth Wing.
The changes also highlight the vacillation of leadership before reaching a decision. Following the release of the second tape, Frontlinereported that PTR would neither be dropped nor have his portfolio changed. In line with this report, the very next day, Stalin, in a video message, dismissed the purported voice recording of PTR and urged DMK members to focus on their tasks without any distraction.
The PTR question
Just a week later, PTR was moved, much to the chagrin of his fans and followers in India and abroad. Although PTR does not have a strong base in Tamil Nadu, meaning he would not be able to contest and win an election without the support of the DMK, it is a fact that his shift has affected the government’s image due to the perception he had built among the opinion-building, English-speaking Indian middle class.
PTR, who simplified government finance and Dravidian ideology for the Indian middle class and has a loyal following across the country, paradoxically, lacks friends within the DMK Ministry. Most bureaucrats in Tamil Nadu, even at the level of secretary to the government, do not speak kindly of him. Strangely, his lack of allies within the government did not matter because he had the backing of a member of the first family and perhaps did not consider it important to build alliances within the Cabinet.
Since the release of the first tape, there has been a clear distinction between how the people in the chattering classes perceived it and how the party members perceived it. For the party members, PTR had committed the ultimate sacrilege by speaking about the first family, and most of them were convinced that it was indeed him speaking. Many individuals from the Indian middle class have shown support for PTR on social media and appealed to Stalin not to change his portfolio.
Shortly after the portfolio shift, PTR took to Twitter at 11:09 am on May 11 to post an elaborate bilingual note. He expressed his gratitude to the Chief Minister for assigning him the “exciting new role” of the Information Technology portfolio. “I hope my own experience in establishing and managing a pioneering Global Capacity Centre 15 years ago, and the connectivity with the IT & ITES industry gained during my professional career, will enrich my efforts in this new role.”
“Though Tamil Nadu was a pioneer in this field in Thalaivar Kalaignar’s time, we have unfortunately lagged our true potential in this sector in the last decade or so. I plan to build on the great efforts of my predecessor Mano Thangaraj to attract more investments, accelerate job creation, and deliver growth at a pace that will re-establish Tamil Nadu as a leading State in IT.”