In an obvious response to the rout in the Lok Sabha elections, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha yesterday restored several sops for various sections of society while reaching out to the media and the government employees.

A key decision was to scrap the controversial anti-conversion law that alienated large segments of minorities in the State while pleasing her new ally, the BJP and its saffron brigade.

The normally unbending All India Anna Dravida Munntra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader, it appears, has hoisted a white flag interpreting the defeat of her alliance with the BJP in the May 10 election as an expression of anger and rejection of her stiff economic reforms by the electorate.

Reiterating that her law banning forcible conversion of religion, enacted in 2002 only with a good intention of further promoting religious harmony, was never intended to be used against the minorities, the Chief Minister said she would nevertheless bring out an ordinance scrapping it at the request of some leaders of minorities.

"This government will always be the true friend and champion of minorities. Those who are today masquerading as secular forces have in fact been responsible for the abject misery and humiliation of minorities without lifting a little finger for their genuine benefit," she said.

The anti-conversion law had prescribed jail term and heavy fines for those found guilty of forcing religious conversions either through inducements or force.

She also restored free power supply to all the farmers, subsidised rice to all ration cardholders, bus-passes to students and added an egg in the free noon-meal given to school children and the destitute.

Seeking to mend the relations with the government employees and teachers, soured after she ordered mass dismissals following their strike in July 2003, Jayalalitha announced revocation of all punishment and disciplinary proceedings against the staff.

Also, the cases against political leaders (including the DMK president M. Karunanidhi and the former PCC working president EVKS Elangovan) under the TN Essential Services Maintenance Act, initiated for their alleged instigation of the staff to strike, would be withdrawn, she said, even as she insisted that these politicians were indeed guilty of misleading the staff.

The Chief Minister also announced dropping of the dozens of defamation cases against the media as well as the privilege issue against The Hindu and the DMK organ Murasoli, the two newspapers had to move the Supreme Court to save their senior editorial staff from being arrested as per the State Assembly resolution last November.

The government would move a resolution in the Assembly in the next session to drop the privilege proceedings.

Stressing that truth should be faithfully reported and distortions kept out of news reports, she expressed the hope that the media would reciprocate to her present gesture by ensuring unbiased reporting, upholding the best traditions of journalistic ethics.

In another major climb-down, she said all farmers and hut-dwellers would from now on get free power supply as against the present system of the government reimbursing small and marginal farmers for the heavily subsidised tariff they paid to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board.

Her government would reimburse the Board the cost of such free power supplies, she said.

© The Asian Age