Politics

Tamil Nadu CM’s Foreign Tour: EPS Is Trying Hard To Shore Up His Image, Will It Work?

Edappadi K Palaniswami on his tri-nation tour.
Snapshot
  • When EPS became the state Chief Minister in February 2017, few thought there was any chance for him to last even six months.

    A grass-roots worker in the AIADMK, EPS has grown in stature, building on his own image and charisma.

    His three-nation tour to procure foreign investments for the state is an assertion from him of his own strength and decisiveness.

Last week, one of the memes doing the rounds on WhatsApp showed Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) President, M K Stalin, lamenting to one of his lieutenants, Durai Murugan, about Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s three-nation tour that began on 28 August.

In the meme, Stalin is seen telling Durai Murugan that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister was looking like a model for a leading textile brand, and Stalin wasn’t able to digest it.

EPS, as Palaniswami is popularly known, is currently on a two-week tour to the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates.

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He is, perhaps, the first state Chief Minister to go abroad in the last four decades on an official trip. The travel is to attract foreign investments into the state. It is also a follow-up to the Global Investors Meet (GIM) held in January this year.

Before this, during 2009-2011, M K Stalin, as the then deputy chief minister, had traveled abroad to get foreign investments. He has claimed that he had got investments for Chennai Metro Rail and the Hogenekkal Integrated Water scheme projects.

EPS’ foreign travel has attracted criticism on the expected lines from the Opposition parties led by the DMK. Stalin, in particular, has already questioned the objective of EPS’ trip.

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Pointing to the travel undertaken by three state ministers before the GIM, Stalin has said that EPS should have gone then, not now.

The DMK president has also sought a white paper on what happened to the proposed investments of Rs 5.12 lakh crore claimed to have come to the state during the two GIMs --- first in 2015 and second this year.

EPS has responded by saying he is going abroad to meet prospective investors and invite them to start new businesses in the state.

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Not wanting to be left behind, the DMK member of Parliament from Thoothukudi Lok Sabha constituency and Stalin’s sister, Kanimozhi, has wondered if there would be any positive development from EPS’ trip abroad.

She also criticized the ruling All-India Anna DMK (AIADMK) for failing to attract investments from the two GIMs.

EPS’ bitter rival, TTV Dinakaran, who was expelled by the AIADMK and launched his own party, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), has probably criticised the trip on more valid grounds. He wondered if the travel would yield any result since the world was going through a period of recession.

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DMK’s criticism, that way, seems more in anguish, as EPS is proving to be a thorn in its flesh.

Leaving these developments aside, there is one clear signal from EPS’ trip abroad: he has emerged as a leader in his own right. He has emerged a strong leader and built his own image despite the various handicaps he has.

When EPS became the state Chief Minister in February 2017, few thought there was any chance for him to last even six months.

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Nearly two-and-a-half years since taking over, the DMK --- despite having 100 members in the Assembly --- has been unable to dislodge EPS.

(Thirteen of the Assembly seats were won in May this year by DMK after by-elections were held to fill the vacancies caused by the disqualification of 18 AIADMK members and death of some other members, including former chief minister and one of DMK’s founders, M Karunanidhi.)

But the by-elections also saw EPS getting enough seats for the AIADMK to maintain its party’s majority in the Assembly.

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One of the features of EPS leading the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu is that not only has he strengthened his position within his party but he has been able to keep the DMK-led Opposition at bay.

EPS has been smart enough to continue all the welfare measures initiated by his mentor, the late J Jayalalithaa. His good relations with the Narendra Modi government at the centre has also stood him in good stead.

Of late, EPS has shown more decisiveness through the bifurcation and trifurcation of districts in the state. In the last eight months, the number of districts, through such moves, has increased from 32 to 37.

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The creation of new districts is seen as a smart move since this will help people from remote areas to easily access their district headquarters. Experts say divisions of districts like Kallakurichi and Vellore are logically sound decisions that will help to improve governance and administration.

That the Chief Minister has gone abroad without mentioning who will be the acting chief minister in his place also shows that the dominance over O Panneerselvam, who was first made chief minister after Jayalalithaa’s death before EPS took over, is complete.

Going by press releases from the state’s Department of Information and Public Relations, the Chief Minister has already signed at least three partnership agreements in the health sector.

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The first is with a leading skill developer, International Skill Development Corporation, to develop the skills of healthcare staff in the state. The second is with King’s College London, which will set up its branch in Tamil Nadu.

The third is a statement of intent signed with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to improve methods to contain communicable diseases such as dengue and malaria.

EPS also visited the facility of a solar-cum-wind energy firm to explore the possibilities of technology transfer to the state.

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A full picture of EPS visit abroad should be available once he returns and speaks to the media. But for now, the visit abroad is yet another proof that a person who was once a grassroots worker in the AIADMK party has grown building on his own image and charisma. The trip is also a statement from him of his authority.

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