The facade of Fort St. George, the seat of power of the State government, has not undergone any change in the past year. But, on the campus that houses the Secretariat, some qualitative changes are discernible since the death of former Chief Minster Jayalalithaa, who was known to be a tough taskmaster with a tight grip over the administration.
An air of openness seems to be blowing across the corridors of the Fort. The Ministers no longer shy away from speaking to the media on any policy matter that falls within the domain of their departments or whenever any controversy breaks out. Even though some observations of some have proved embarrassing at times, Ministers talking to journalists appears to have become a routine feature. In fact, some Ministers even took part in talk shows of Tamil television channels, a scenario unimaginable when Jayalalithaa was around.
Senior government officials are also not averse to reaching out to the media, breaking their traditional image of being tight-lipped. “We are carrying out an experiment,” quips an official in the Industries Department. The way the Principal Secretary and the Commissioner of Revenue Administration K. Satyagopal has been communicating with the outside world either through his interviews with the media or on the official twitter handle of the Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Agency (TNSDMA) in times of natural disasters has not gone unnoticed.
Despite the dissemination of information getting easier, there are certain aspects of the Jayalalithaa government’s functioning which are still in practice. For example, briefings of the media after Cabinet meetings, a convention followed by the Central government in New Delhi, are still an uncommon feature. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, since taking charge in mid-February, has held formal press interactions on a few occasions.
On the other hand, interactions between the Chief Minister and his ministerial colleagues and senior officials have become more frequent.
Unlike in the past when a note had to be submitted to the Chief Minister’s Office whenever officials or Ministers felt that decisions had to be taken after discussions with Jayalalithaa, Ministers now convey to Mr. Palaniswami about the need for formal meetings and Secretaries of the departments concerned get in touch with the Chief Minister’s Office, which facilitates such meetings.
There is also a perception that Ministers have become “more powerful,” unlike during the times of Jayalalithaa. “It is now mantris’ rajyam,” says an official. But, D. Jayakumar, Fisheries Minister and a prominent face of the government, denies this contention and says “Ours is Amma’s [Jayalalithaa’s] government. There is a perfect understanding and cooperation among the Ministers, and Hon’ble Chief Minister consults us.”
Talking of the personality of Jayalalithaa and her two successors — O. Panneerselvam (now Deputy Chief Minister) and Mr. Palaniswami — it is open knowledge that the other two are no match for Jayalalithaa’s stature and intellect. Yet, their strengths have also been observed by the officials. While Mr. Palaniswami is credited with having “native intelligence,” Mr. Panneerselvam is seen as diligent.
There is also a view that even though routine matters of the administration get attended to and the government has taken welcome steps such as the establishment of a single-window system, streamlining the process of selection for the post of vice-chancellors and strengthening the school education system, there has not been any spectacular move on the part of the government: for instance, translating into action several projects or ideas that are part of Vision 2023, a document unveiled by Jayalalithaa in March 2012 for faster economic development and progress of the State.