“The name change of the Central Railway Station looks hollow and empty. Isn’t there a better way to remember MGR’s legacy?” writes R Kannan, MGR’s biographer.

BJP can rename Chennai Central but MGRs legacy is beyond its reach
news Opinion Thursday, March 07, 2019 - 17:05

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP appear desperate to lay claim to former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran’s legacy. Kicking off an election rally on 6 March on the outskirts of Chennai, the Prime Minister announced the renaming of the city’s Central Railway Station after the “great MG Ramachandran” (MGR).  Earlier he had unveiled his statue. That evening in three separate tweets, the Prime Minister self-patted his government for its “decisiveness, work culture and track record” and claimed that the NDA was best suited to fulfil regional aspirations and MGR’s dreams.

AIADMK founder MGR’s heart was in the right place. Known for his munificence, he once donated 6,000 raincoats for rickshaw drivers. As Chief Minister, his administration’s thrust was welfare for the poor; his nutritious noon meal programme, the expansion of the public distribution system, books for school children, village self-sufficiency scheme, public private partnership in tertiary education and strides in primary health care speak to only a facet of MGR’s legacy. Before he grew ill, MGR the Chief Minister was in person to commiserate in case of a natural disaster or the launch of a welfare scheme. Laying claim to such legacy would be a tall order – especially for the BJP. 

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s slip is showing. Except the December 2015 floods and Cyclone Ockhi in November 2017, the Prime Minister has not found the time to visit the state when Cyclone Gaja left a trail of misery last November or Cyclone Vardah in December 2016. More worryingly between 2015 and now the NDA government saw fit to sanction a measly 5% of the one lakh crore in disaster assistance sought.    

The “decisiveness” that one witnessed in setting up the Cauvery Tribunal is nothing but phenomenal. If not for the Supreme Court, the NDA would have continued to sit on its hands. NEET or the environmentally controversial central schemes they have been simply ramrodded down Tamil Nadu’s throat.

In his films the poor, the downtrodden and the mistreated piggybacked on MGR’s sense of fairness and generosity. Now the BJP thinks it could ride on MGR’s “legacy”. Thirty-one years after he passed away and two years after former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s death, the AIADMK has been reduced to an errand boy taking orders from masters in Delhi. Hanging on to its dear life, the Edappadi S Palanisami-led AIADMK government had long turned into a BJP proxy administration.

Remembrance must be meaningful

The name change of the Central Railway Station, therefore, looks hollow and empty. Isn’t there a better way to remember MGR’s legacy? Among the tens of central schemes that are named, Modi could have graciously chosen to yield one to MGR? Instead, he chose the Central Railways Station.

Too little too late. For 57 months the Modi administration was impervious to MGR’s “greatness”. Besides, any remembrance to any leader must be meaningful. The Central Railway Station is probably one of the most inapposite landmarks for a man whose looks, freshness and energy placed millions in thrall.

Older to the Mumbai Railway Station by five years, the Central Railway Station has stood as a majestic landmark of the British legacy of railroad communications and a mix of Gothic and Romanesque style architecture – that is until you get inside. Inside the stench next to the tracks, the slovenly look, the chaos and the grime make you want to quickly get into the train and be off. The place could be easily spruced up and made nice and very welcoming. But that requires thoughtfulness not electoral expediency.

The irony is that the Central Railway Station unlike the Victoria Terminus of Mumbai did not have a British colonial name; nor a Mughal name. The Modi administration and its partners have been quick to erase history in the clumsiest ways. But they alone should not be blamed. Unlike the Congress and the others, they see the Mughals too as colonial. In July 2018, the BJP kicked up a controversy naming Mughalsarai a station 20 kms from Varanasi after Deendayal Upadhyaya, one of its former leaders.  More than two decades earlier, in March 1996 the then Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra renamed the Victoria Terminus as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.  On 27 June 2017, the present BJP government in Maharashtra wanted to be one-up on its earlier record and added Maharaj next to Shivaji.  

The naming of Chennai’s Central Railway Station after MGR is one more clumsy attempt to establish what the BJP is not: a tolerant, inclusive party. Even in Tamil Nadu, where elections are mostly bought, the Prime Minister’s 6 March attempt to portray the BJP as a party that can relate to the Tamils, Tamil and Tamil Nadu will be a hard sell.

R. Kannan is the deputy head of the HirShabelle Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia. He is also the author of ‘MGR: A Life’.

Views are author’s own.

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