From allegations of making official foreign trips for personal reasons to astrologer’s advice against going overseas, Tamil Nadu chief ministers have found it difficult to make the choice to travel abroad.
The last time a Tamil Nadu chief minister went on an official trip to Western countries (USA, UK) was way back in 1979.
The then chief minister MG Ramachandran was on a five-week long trip to the USA, Japan and Singapore. The trip was touted to be one for attracting overseas investments to the state. But there were unseemly reports in the state that the chief minister was on an extended tour as he was combining it with a foreign visit for his medical treatment.
Nobody knows for sure what really transpired then on that trip.
But tomorrow when the incumbent chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami embarks on a 10-day trip to the UK, USA and UAE, there is also stray talk that he would undergo some health check-ups during his travel.
Sources, however, add that that part of the trip would not come under the official tour.
The fact that Palaniswami decided to take up this trip in itself is interesting and intriguing. For, chief ministers have always been reluctant to go abroad for reasons that typically belong to the intrigue-filled Tamil Nadu politics.
For instance, former chief Minister J Jayalalithaa never ventured anywhere outside India because it was rumoured that she was advised by an astrologer to "not cross the seas."
Of course, when queried why she was not going abroad like other chief ministers, Jayalalithaa, in her typical style, brazened it out saying that she had the capacity to attract investments from within.
Jayalalithaa was not taken abroad even when few doctors suggested that she be at the height of her medical crisis in 2016.
Her arch-rival M Karunanidhi was also a reluctant traveller. He had a genuine dislike for airplane travels. Within the state itself, he always preferred to travel by overnight train or by car.
In his various stints as chief minister, he had been to foreign shores only twice. In 1970, he went to Europe on a three-week-long visit for typical scouting of foreign investments.
Later in 1999, he made a three-day trip to Singapore. But there was an inevitable controversy to that tour as his daughter Kanimozhi was living there then. She had married Singaporean G Aravindan in 1997. One typical rumour had it that Karunanidhi had planned the visit to see his daughter who was in the family way back then.
Anyway, when Karunanidhi lost the 2001 State Assembly election, one of the reasons slyly speculated was his "ill-starred trip across the seas."
Also, in the deeply distrustful world of Tamil Nadu politics, chief ministers were loath to leave the reins of power with a colleague. MGR, for instance, never really believed in the loyalty of his ministers and always reportedly spied on them.
It is a predicament that Palaniswami also faces. As his equation with his ambitious deputy O Panneerselvam is frosty, there was surprise in many circles that the chief minister indeed made the bold decision to venture out.
But insiders say that Palaniswami, by opting to travel abroad, is sending out to clear political circles that he is well and truly in charge and no one can shake him even if he is absent for a few days.
Palaniswami has not announced any replacement who will discharge his duties during his period of absence. The word out is that Palaniswami will be in charge even if he is out of the country.
Palaniswami is being accompanied by health minister C Vijayabaskar in the UK leg of the trip, while the ministers for Industry MC Sampath, information technology RB Udhayakumar and dairy development KT Rajenthra Bhalaji will be with the chief minister in the US.
Read Exclusive COVID-19 Coronavirus News updates, at MyNation.
Last Updated Aug 27, 2019, 7:11 PM IST