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Karuna's demise, cyclone Gaja cap eventful 2018 in Tamil Nadu


Press Trust of India Chennai
The Gaja cyclone that barrelled through the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu leaving in its wake a trail of destruction of monumental proportions, the death of Dravidian legend M Karunanidhi, and political churnings made 2018 an extraordinary year for the state.
The ruling AIADMK led by Chief Mininster K Palaniswami weathered many a political storm as it saw off the second year since the demise of J Jayalalithaa, its charismatic leader, despite doomsday predictions by rebels and arch rival DMK.
The party won a key legal dispute when the Madras High Court upheld the disqualification of its 18 MLAs who had sided with sacked leader TTV Dhinakaran in a bid to topple the Palaniswami government.
The government, however, faced acute embarrassment when the CBI conducted searches at the premises of a senior minister and the state police chief, among others, in the multi-crore rupees Gutkha scam, while the principal opposition DMK kept hurling graft accusations against it.
Violent protests against Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin over pollution concerns led to the killing of 13 people in police firing and prompted the state government to order its permanent closure, but the National Green Tribunal set aside the action.
Putting to rest speculations of a possible thaw in the DMK's ties with the BJP, Karunanidhi's son M K Stalin, who took over the reins of the party after his death, made a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling him "fascist" at a party event that was attended by a galaxy of opposition leaders.
He plumped for long-time ally Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition, but the proposal did not find any takers from national opposition parties and regional outfits.
New actors emerged on Tamil Nadu's political stage that was dominated for decades by Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, with veteran filmstar Kamal Haasan launching his party Makkal Needhi Maiam in February.
His contemporary in the film industry superstar Rajinikanth, however, kept his fans guessing about the timing of his party's launch a year after he announced his decision to take the political plunge.
Cyclonic storm 'Gaja', which puzzled the weatherman by changing course all the while before landfall, hit Tamil Nadu coast near Vedaranyam town in Nagapattinam district, about 350 km from here, on November 16.
Packing wind speed of 110-120 kmph, it caused death and destruction in the Cauvery delta region,the state's rice bowl, claiming 52 lives and flattening a staggering three lakh thatched houses, uprooting hundreds of thousands of trees, electric poles and mobile phone towers, and damaging crops in vast swathes of land.
Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Thanjavur and Pudukottai districts in the heart of the delta bore the brunt, while eight more were also hit by the cyclone that rolled inland after landfall, in one of the worst natural calamities to have hit the state in recent years.
Farmers, whose lives turned topsy-turvey in a trice, say it would take years for them to pick up the pieces and get back on track.
Chief Minister Palaniswami met Modi in Delhi and sought an assistance of nearly Rs 15,000 crore for relief and rehabilitation.
Karunanidhi (94), who strode the state's political landscape like a colossus in a public life that spanned over seven decades, died on August 7 after prolonged illness, barely 20 months after the demise of Jayalalithaa, his long- time political foe and another bright star that faded away from Tamil Nadu's political firmament on December 5, 2016.
A host of national leaders including Modi and Rahul Gandhi were part of the veritable the sea of humanity that descended on the state capital to pay last respects to Karunanidhi, who was laid to rest near the Marina Beach after the high court settled a bitter row with the government over his memorial in the DMK's favour.
The DMK, perceived to be on a strong wicket for the 2019 polls in the absence of Jayalalithaa, geared itself to play a lead role at the national level.
Stalin, long considered Karunanidhi's political heir, consolidated his position by scripting a smooth takeover of the DMK, frustrating a bid by his estranged elder brother M K Alagiri, who was expelled from the party years ago by their father.
The AIADMK, meanwhile, battled the challenge posed by Dhinakaran, nephew of V K Sasikaka, jailed party leader and a confidante of Jayalalithaa, and the resurgent DMK which kept targeting the government over alleged corruption.
The September ruling of the high court upholding the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs loyal to Dhinakaran came as a shot in the arm for it. The MLAs had expressed lack of confidence in Palaniswami in August, 2017.
The AIADMK also faced repeated allegations by the DMK and other opposition parties that it was subservient to the BJP, which continued efforts to strengthen its base in the state with the prime minister interacting with polling station-level party workers through video conferencing.
The Palaniswami government suffered a set back when the Madras High Court ordered a CBI probe into the infamous Gutkha scam in which Health Minister C Vijaya Baskar, Director General of Police TK Rajendran and others were questioned.
The inquiry by the one-man judicial commission into the death of Jayalalithaa picked up pace with a host of people, including officials and doctors, making depositions.
The vexed Cauvery issue reared its head again with the state moving the Supreme Court against the Centre's consent for preparing a detailed project report for constructing a dam at Mekedatu proposed by Karnataka, drawing protests in Tamil Nadu.
The state assembly passed a resolution demanding that the Centre withdraw its approval for preparing the report and direct Karnataka to desist from taking up any construction activity across the inter-state river.

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First Published: Dec 28 2018 | 1:35 PM IST

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