A meeting between DMK MPs TR Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran, Thamizhachi Thangapandian and Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary K Shanmugam on Wednesday has spurred many controversies in the state.
It started with TR Baalu alleging that the Chief Secretary humiliated him during a visit to his office. The top bureaucrat has rejected the allegations stating that he was just a government employee and had no intention of doing so.
On Wednesday, the three DMK leaders visited the Chief Secretary at the Secretariat in Chennai to submit petitions received from people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
Baalu, who is also the DMK's parliamentary party leader, wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Thursday, seeking to move a privilege motion against the bureaucrat over the incident.
Speaking to media persons after the visit to Fort St George on Wednesday, DMK MP TR Baalu said, āWe took an appointment to go meet him at 5 pm and submitted 1 lakh petitions. We asked what was going to be done about it, there was no proper reply for that. We asked what we should tell our leader (DMK chief MK Stalin). He told us, āthis is the problem with you people.ā The Chief Secretary insulted the people's representatives.ā
DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran added, āLok Sabha MPs are coming in and the TV in the room is on high volume. He could have reduced it. He wanted to humiliate us.ā
āGovt employee, not politicianā
Chief Secretary Shanmugam responded to the allegations in a statement on Thursday, saying āI greatly respect the Leader of the Opposition. It is only because I had no intention at all of disrespecting him that I set aside time to meet them at 5 pm (after the district collectors' meeting ended at 2.30 pm) amid intense coronavirus work.ā
Giving his version of the events that transpired, the bureaucrat said, āIn the evening, the Union Finance Ministerās relief plan to mitigate the effects of coronavirus was being telecasted. The Finance Secretary and I were watching it and making notes. While we were watching, I got the news that MP TR Baalu and others had arrived at the door. I told the Finance Secretary to continue taking notes and got up from my seat and waited for them.ā
The Chief Secretary said that he was shocked to see the MPs accompanied by 15 to 20 persons carrying big bundles of petitions at a time when the coronavirus had adversely affected Tamil Nadu. He said that he had asked those taking photographs and videos to stop.
Promising action on the petitions in due time, the Chief Secretary reportedly said that he could not give an exact date to act on them since they were understaffed during the pandemic.
āMP TR Baalu asked me if he could say that no date can be given because officers are few. I said, āDonāt say it like that. Please say we gave the petitions, he promised to act.ā Then he said he would say that action was not taken because there was no staff. I said (in English), āThis is the problem with you people, you donāt understand our difficulties.ā I told them to say whatever they wanted to the press and that I did not have any objections,ā K Shanmugam said.
I had no intention to insult them, reiterated the Chief Secretary.
Refuting allegations that he was watching TV when the DMK delegation was in his office, K Shanmugam said that the layout of the room did not permit him to do so. I reduced the volume when I got up and there was no interruption from the TV, he said.
āI am an ordinary government employee. Not a politician. My job is to serve the people. I have never thought to insult or humiliate anyone at any point. It is really disheartening to see such statements in the press at a time like this,ā he said.
āTreated like oppressed peopleā
DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran's comments during the press meet outside the Secretariat on Wednesday caused a backlash after he said that the Chief Secretary treated the DMK delegation like 'oppressed people'.
āThird class people. It's a word I cannot say. People like you. Are we oppressed people?ā the MP asked reporters.
Comparing the interaction with the Chief Secretary to the plight of Dalits prompted outrage on social media. Tamil film director and anti-caste activist Pa Ranjith tweeted with the hashtag that Dravidian parties had forgotten social reformer Periyar.
āAre we oppressed people? Social hatred, humiliation, denial of rights: are you admitting that these can be done to Dalit people? When will the Dravidian parties realise that the ignorance about social justice has led to the hatred of Dalits so casually residing in people's hearts?ā said the filmmaker.
āIt is highly condemnable that a person in an important postā in a party that claims to be the descendants of Periyar, who raised his voice for social justiceā spoke with a superiority complex. Seeing all this, it becomes clear that they are not the descendants of Periyar, but like he said, his tears,ā said the statement.