G.C. Shekhar

Chennai, Dec. 4: One former chief minister could not have entered the Tamil Nadu Assembly today as she has been disqualified. Another, bound to a wheelchair, had to turn back because no special seating arrangements had been made for him.

Jayalalithaa’s twin sofa in the front row of the treasury benches remained vacant, with her name card removed from its slot.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi, 12-time MLA, was wheeled up to the lobby of the House, where he signed the attendance register and left.

The passageway from the door of the Assembly main hall to Karunanidhi’s assigned front-row seat on the Opposition benches was too narrow – cramped by a long table – for his wheelchair to pass.

Since the DMDK is now the main Opposition, DMK members have been allotted seats in the second column – away from the door – forcing them to negotiate the narrow aisle.

Ideally, a vacant spot near the entrance and by the side of the leader of the Opposition’s (Vijayakanth) seat should have been earmarked for Karunanidhi, so he could participate from his wheelchair.

But the AIADMK government of O. Panneerselvam had not arranged for the necessary microphone and nametag.

“I came to the House expecting the present chief minister to have made special arrangements for me after he had taunted me about not participating in the Assembly,” a peeved Karunanidhi told reporters outside the House on the first day of the winter session.

“But I was disappointed that no special seat was provided for a disabled person like me. I presume the ruling party was not keen on my participation.”

There was no reaction from the ruling party, while DMK sources said Karunanidhi had no plans to attend the House any further this session.

There’s a lone ramp at the entrance to the Assembly portion of the secretariat but none inside the building or up the members’ galleries in the main hall. Sources said that no member had ever attended the House from a wheelchair.

Activist groups in New Delhi said that no facilities for the disabled – nor rules to ensure such facilities – had been put in place in Parliament, or state legislatures in general, despite repeated requests.

Karunanidhi, 90, has been wheelchair-bound since 2006 following complications from a spinal surgery. Unlike now, he was then fit enough to get off his wheelchair inside the main hall and walk the last few steps to his chief minister’s chair.

In 2010, he shifted the Assembly to a new building that had ramps inside and outside. But after Jayalalithaa returned to power in 2011, she brought the House back to its old venue.

Karunanidhi had last month taunted Panneerselvam about his ability to convene an Assembly session in Jayalalithaa’s absence, drawing a retort about the DMK chief’s continued absence from the Assembly since Jayalalithaa’s return in 2011.

Karunanidhi had also stayed away from the House between 2001 and 2006, during Jayalalithaa’s previous tenure. She had reciprocated during DMK rule (2006-11), attending the Assembly only on the two days when all the other MLAs from her party had been suspended over a ruckus.

Jayalalithaa’s absence today posed a challenge for her ministers and MLAs, long used to attributing every administrative decision to “the government led by Purathchi Thalaivi, Idhaya Deivam Amma (Revolutionary Leader and Goddess of Our Heart, Our Mother).”

Today, they tweaked it to “this government blessed by Purathchi Thalaivi, Idhaya Deivam Amma”.