After much deliberation within the party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government in Tamil Nadu has decided not to drop or change the portfolio of Finance Minister P.T.R. Palanivel Thiagarajan, who was caught in a controversy following the recent release of two audio tapes in which he spoke disparagingly about some members of the Chief Minister’s family.
On May 1, senior party leaders met with Chief Minister M.K. Stalin for several hours. DMK seniors see this as a welcome sign, indicating that the Chief Minister has discussed an important issue with his Cabinet colleagues at length. Earlier, friends of the Finance Minister who have the Chief Minister’s ear advised Stalin not to drop him from the Cabinet. At that point in the discussions, it appeared as if Thiagarajan would be shifted from the Finance Ministry, and Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu would be given the portfolio. However, on May 1, Thiagarajan waited to meet with the Chief Minister and managed to secure an audience at his residence.
Speculation was rife in the past week over Thiagarajan’s continuation in the Cabinet after two audio tapes were released by those intent on bringing down the Finance Minister. Even before the start of the budget session of the Assembly, the DMK leadership had decided to induct at least two members into the Cabinet. However, any addition to the Cabinet can only be made after dropping current Ministers. The names of two MLAs are being considered—T.R.B. Raja, a three-time MLA with a doctorate, and E. Raja, DMK’s MLA from Sankarankovil.
The DMK is keen on maintaining caste balance in this reshuffle. T.R.B. Raja, son of former Union Minister T.R. Baalu, will become the fifth member from the same community to hold a Cabinet post. E. Raja is being considered to add to the caste heft—a position that could also be filled by A. Tamilarasi, former Minister, and the Manamadurai MLA. There are three potential candidates who can be dropped— Tourism Minister R. Ramachandran, Dairy Development Minister S.M. Nasar, and Adi Dravidar Welfare Minister Kayalvizhi Selvaraj. As of now, there appears to be no decision on who will go.
The PTR tapes
PTR has claimed that the first tape was tampered with, and the second one was a deep fake. State BJP president K.Annamalai released the second recorded conversation with PTR’s voice on April 25 and tweeted on that day: “Listen to the DMK ecosystem crumbling from within. The 2nd tape of TN State FM Thiru @ptrmadurai. Special thanks to TN FM for drawing a proper distinction between DMK & BJP.”
In the tape, a voice resembling PTR says, “I have been a long-time proponent of one man one post from the day I entered politics. It is what I like about the BJP. Who looks after the party who looks after the people - separate those…right? Here every…district secretary wants to be MLA, and the Minister who looks after the party [because] it’s easier to do money management. It is not a system. They are taking a bulk of the spoils - the party which is CM’s son and son-in-law. Ask them to make the financing right. So I decided after watching this for eight months that this is not a sustainable model. The great luxury for me if I put my papers in, in the short term, I get out before the shit starts blowing up in their face…I have…what you say cleanliness of my conscience that I did not have to…like it wasn’t I gave up the fight too early…I don’t have to say it since I am no longer in the post…its not my job. Somebody did it.”
Reacting to this, PTR claimed in a video released on April 26 that it was a deep fake, using examples of deep fakes from India and abroad. He said, “If such authentic-looking videos can be machine-generated, imagine what all can be done with audio files. I strongly and specifically deny having said to any individual personally or on the phone at any point in time, what is contained in the audio clip being circulated on social media since yesterday, the source of which nobody accepts ownership for. The State president of the BJP has descended to post an audio of somebody telling nobody about others. This is the base level of his politics.”
PTR also praised the Chief Minister, his son and Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin, and his son-in-law V. Sabareesan. “Under the leadership of Chief Minister Tiru M.K. Stalin, we have delivered record-breaking innovative and compassionate administration in the two years since we came to office, what we call the Dravidian model of governance. To achieve these lofty goals, we have brought in major financial reforms and have achieved within two years what has not been attempted in the past decade. These results are also superior to what the Union Government has achieved in the last decade. A direct comparison will show the true worth of the Dravidian model. Certain forces are unable to digest these achievements. So they are indulging in using advanced technology and cheap tactics such as releasing this fabricated audio to disrupt our good work,” he said.