Churning in TN politics

Amulya Ganguli

Since the feudalism inherent in the choice of Sasikala as head of the legislature party in Tamil Nadu by a large number of MLAs runs counter to modern-day practices, a revolt against Jayalalithaa’s former aide was only to be expected.
Although the mild-mannered O. Panneerselvam initially bowed to the subservient manner which has become second nature to the AIADMK members since the imperious Amma’s time, he appears to have subsequently realized that an aide cannot be the boss. Hence, his decision to throw his hat into the ring, negating his earlier decision to resign as the chief minister.
However, the events of the recent past have tended to show Tamil Nadu in a poor light. The reason is the state’s adherence to two “traditions”, neither of which is worthy of emulation.
One is Jallikattu, which necessitated an amendment of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, suggesting that the animal “sport” with bulls violated the existing law.
The other is the pattern of submissive behaviour encouraged by Jayalalithaa among the party members, which made Sasikala believe that she could ascend to the chief minister’s throne by virtue of her earlier association with Amma. 
But attitudes are changing. Not surprisingly, objections to Sasikala’s anointment by a section of the MLAs have been voiced in the social media, showing that it isn’t only the DMK and the Congress which have dubbed the event as “murder of democracy” and a “black day” for the state, but even the BJP, which has been trying to move closer to the AIADMK since the Jallikattu controversy, has said that her choice cannot be seen as an internal affair of the party because as chief minister, she will be “administering” the state.
Seeing these developments, Panneerselvam seems to have realized that he acted rather hastily by submitting his resignation. Yet, it should have been obvious even in the absence of protests that Sasikala was unfit for the job because of her lack of charisma and political experience.
Unlike Jayalalithaa, who became the AIADMK’s propaganda secretary soon after joining the party and was then elected to the Rajya Sabha, Sasikala remained in the background throughout the period when she was with Amma except for the time when she was asked to leave Poes Garden for trying to influence the government on behalf of her family.
Sasikala’s career in politics, therefore, is likely to be short-lived one, much like Janaki Ramachandran’s was when M.G. Ramachandran’s widow tired to step into his shoes after his death. 
The point, however, is not whether Sasikala succeeds in living up to the faith reposed in her by a section of the party, but the persistence of the “tradition” of hero worship which made the AIADMK regard Jayalalithaa as Amma or “mother” and Sasikala as “Chinnamma”, or mother’s younger sister.
True, the practice of referring to a woman leader in familial terms is known in other parties as well. For instance, chief minister Mamata Banerjee is called “Didi” or elder sister in West Bengal and Dalit czarina Mayawati is known as “Behenji” or sister in U.P. But the kind of adulation which was accorded to Jayalalithaa was unique to Tamil Nadu.
Little wonder that the AIADMK claimed that more than 70 people died of shock at the news of her death while the intelligence agencies put the figure at 30. But whatever the number, there is something odd about the idolization of a politician in Tamil Nadu which is not seen in other states.
It is possible that the politicians themselves are responsible for fostering this kind of an attitude by distancing themselves as far as possible from the common people by living in large bungalows inside walled-off compounds and surrounded by armed commandos when they move out. 
It cannot be gainsaid that such practices of keeping the unwashed masses at arm’s length are a legacy of both feudalism and colonialism. The threat of terrorism has given the politicians an additional reason for their self-imposed isolation which has also apparently come to be associated, at least in their minds, with a sense of prestige.
If the opposition to Sasikala’s elevation undermines the pedestal on which some in the AIADMK wants to put her, it can begin the process of dispelling the reverential aura which has been associated with the party’s founder, M.G. Ramachandran, and his successor, Jayalalithaa, who inherited the mantle.
Any such diminution of a leader’s halo cannot but affect the DMK as well whose foremost leader, M. Karunanidhi, has a larger-than-life image for the party’s supporters.
A possible reason why the two Dravidian parties have acquired the “tradition” of their leaders being adored to such an extent is their establishment of a distinctive political base in Tamil Nadu from 1967 onwards, which purposefully demarcated itself from the rest of the country and particularly from North India with an atheistic, anti-Hindi, anti-Brahmin and anti-Aryan outlook.
The need for sustaining this position, which is not seen anywhere else even in South India, necessitated the conferment of an iconic status to the leaders. Few will rue the end of this tradition. (IPA)

Thursday, 9 February, 2017