CHENNAI: The 1996 local body elections in the State were historic for more reasons than one. First, it witnessed the return of local self-governance with elected representatives to local bodies in Tamil Nadu after a gap of 24 years. Second, it saw the rise of a son in the political spectrum of Tamil Nadu - M K Stalin. The Mayoral post he occupied was meant to be his training ground before his launch in the bigger political arena. Third, and perhaps most important, the subsequent years saw the emergence of a strong civic consciousness among Chennaiites.
With a clear mandate, the DMK-led Council began with an increased focus on basic amenities. For the first time in several years, grievance meetings were held in Ripon Building, the Chennai Corporation headquarters and people were encouraged to approach the councillors with their grievances.
The period also saw the emergence of Exnora International, a community-based organisation that introduced Chennai to slogans ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and ‘clean and green Chennai’. Soon, citizens were more involved in the civic affairs.
Stalin’s high profile presence in the post had its own positives. He could push for sanction from the government for high cost projects. His slogan ‘Singara Chennai’ promised to convert Chennai into a Singapore. While the slogan is no longer in vogue, it did spark off a dream among city residents. The period also saw the privatisation of conservancy operations through the introduction of CES Onyx, a Singapore-based firm.
In a bid to improve traffic flow, the Corporation decided to construct 10 flyovers in the city. While nine out of 10 flyovers were completed before the council’s tenure was over in 2006, the structures became a bone of contention. For, a ‘flyover scam’ led to the arrest of DMK chief M Karunanidhi and Stalin on June 30, 2006.
Battling odds and riding high on a sympathy wave, the DMK scion managed to retain the mayor’s post in the October 2006 local body elections by a thin margin of about 5,000 votes. The euphoria was, however, shortlived. The very next year, the government came up with the TN Municipal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2002, which prevents a person from holding two elected posts. Political analysts saw in the amendment an attempt to target to unseat Stalin as he was an elected MLA as well. Although the Madras High Court struck down the law, it also ruled that under the Madras City Municipal Corporation Act, 1919, a person couldn’t be mayor for two consecutive terms. In the subsequent years, the mayoral election was not held and deputy mayor Karate R Thiagarajan headed the council.