The recent political turmoil in Tamil Nadu once again exposed the utmost ideological bankruptcy that has creeped inside Indian politics, of which the Dravidian politics is also a victim. The entire battle between the AIADMK camps led by VK Sasikala, the former aide of J. Jayalalithaa, and the former acting Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam drove home the point that the parliamentary politicians are never concerned about executing the will of the people, which the advocates of the system will tell us during their regular sermons, but this genre of politics is quagmire in deep opportunism, nepotism, and a quest for power.
The problems within the AIADMK: The battle for the throne of Chennai
The feud between Sasikala and Panneerselvam started soon after the death of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa, who didn’t left any heir for the throne in Chennai.
It was naturally perceived that Sasikala, who remained a close confidant of the late leader for years, will be heading the party after her. However, since the ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ always preferred O. Panneerselvam, her obedient lackey, to proxy her in the Chief Minister’s office, so it was thought that Panneerselvam will retain the power seat as a gift for his undying loyalty to the former leader.
Sasikala was not quite happy with the ambitions of Panneerselvam as they were obstacles to her own ambition of seizing power in the state and enjoying the position that her mentor Jayalalithaa did for years.
Along with herself, Sasikala was keen to promote the interests of her nephew, for whom she wanted to carve a niche in Tamil Nadu politics. The shameless dynastic inclinations of the Dravidian politics left Panneerselvam with no choices but two, either to revolt or to abide by Sasikala’s whims. He thought the former would be effective.
As Sasikala declared herself anointed as the leader of the party and the next Chief Minister and asked Panneerselvam to step down, the former ally of the BJP started seeking help from New Delhi.
Panneerselvam knew that the BJP is now desperate to build inroads into the largest southern state using the RSS built network to counter the dominance of Dravidian forces and impose the very Aryan-Hindutva that the organisations loyal to the Dravidian movement, except the AIADMK, despised for decades.
Panneerselvam thought of negotiating a deal with the Amit Shah led BJP leaders to topple Sasikala, who by then smelled the conspiracy and had the legislators of the AIADMK locked in a resort far from the reach of Panneerselvam.
When Panneerselvam was failing to break the logjam created by Sasikala on his path to success, he took resort to the ‘spirit of Amma’, which according to him, told him to revolt against Sasikala’s plans. Panneerselvam brought in the niece of Jayalalithaa who was sidelined by the party and Sasikala since the death of ‘Amma’ and using her as a pawn, Panneerselvam started firing his salvo at the camp of Sasikala.
When Sasikala was convicted by the Supreme Court in the Disproportionate Asset case of 1996, in which Jayalalithaa was a co-accused, the camp of Panneerselvam rejoiced and they used the occasion to pay tribute to Jayalalithaa, without realising that the verdict itself made the deceased leader a convict in the D.A. case, which means she was involved in corruption to amass wealth.
The allegiance of both the camps of AIADMK to the deceased leader even when the Supreme Court imposed a penalty of Rs. 100 crores on Jayalalithaa that’s to be collected by auctioning her properties, clearly, indicates the nadir of stooping in the right-wing politics of Tamil Nadu.
Historically, the Tamil nationalist movement was always centred around the cult of personality and the leaders of the Dravidian parties, including the anti-Brahminical DMK, religiously followed the feudal dynastic rituals, where heirs are chosen by the patriarch of the party and then imposed on the supporters and activists.
Though Jayalalithaa didn’t inherit the political baton of Tamil Nadu or the leadership of the party through dynastic lines, yet she wasn’t a self-made woman leader unlike Mamata Banerjee or Irom Sharmila Chanu. Being a female actor, she had a fan-following that the late M.G. Ramachandran, her mentor, capitalised on while bringing her in politics.
The Prevalence of Dynastic Politics in Tamil Nadu
The battle between Sasikala and Panneerselvam, which culminated with E. Palaniswami becoming the puppet Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is a sequel of the past when the Dravidian politics witnessed multiple splits over the fight for leadership.
The sole reason for such fights is the utmost dependence on the cult of personality in the Dravidian parliamentary politics and the feudalism-inspired dynastic rule that reigns in the political parties and their organisational structures.
Dynastic politics have been the sole catalyst of the splits within the Dravidian political entities until now; the trend started long back in 1949 when a pro-New Delhi Annadurai split from Periyar’s Dravidar Kazhagam as the latter chose his wife Maniammai as his heir apparent in the party.
The clash of personal ambitions and the lucrative baits from Indira Gandhi, splintered the DMK formed by Annadurai in 1971 when the then party treasury M.G. Ramachandran walked away with his followers after opposing M. Karunanidhi and formed his own party, the AIADMK.
J. Jayalalithaa and Janaki Ramachandran fought over the AIADMK after the death of MGR and their feud caused the AIADMK to face a humiliating defeat in the state assembly elections in 1989.
Since returning to power by merging the warring factions of the AIADMK under her leadership, Jayalalithaa started building a cult around herself following the footsteps of MGR. She was successful in doing so. Even after she was accused of amassing a huge amount of wealth through unfair means during her tenure as the Chief Minister, the AIADMK supporters worshipped her like a demi-goddess and brought her back to power several times.
The rise of the Dravidian politics under the leadership of Periyar in the 1940s against the Hindi-Aryan-Brahminical aggression of North India died down slowly since the Sino-India war in 1962, as the DMK succumbed to the pressure exerted by New Delhi and compromised on its demand for a sovereign Tamil state.
As the DMK and its splinter group, the AIADMK (which distanced itself from Karunanidhi’s anti-Brahminical atheist politics), grew closer to New Delhi and became allies of the Congress and the BJP, the feudal dynastic political system became stronger and Periyar’s liberal democratic ideals were shown the back-door.
The Crucial Role of Cult of Personality in Dravidian Politics
When a political party is centred around a cult and cult worship is the regular norm of the politicians, then it is a signal that democracy is jeopardised by such feudal practices.
The AIADMK far surpassed the DMK in terms of cult worship and though Karunanidhi finely balanced his dynastic hold over the party he inherited from Annadurai, his political career was less dramatic than that of Jayalalithaa and the grand old man of Tamil politics never let his cult rule the DMK, unlike Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK.
Jayalalithaa was a celebrity, a yesteryear actress, and she acted as the cohesive that held the AIADMK together; her cult as the ‘Amma’ or mother of the Tamil people and AIADMK workers, became the rallying point for the party to revive its fortune since 1991.
Even though she was accused of amassing a huge amount of illicit wealth by misusing her position as a Chief Minister and even after hobnobbing with the Hindutva forces in the centre for share in the power equation, Jayalalithaa managed to win the huge mandate every time by implementing some of the most popular pro-poor initiatives of the state government.
Though she was an unapologetic advocate of the neo-liberal economic system, Jayalalithaa didn’t dilute some of the most popular schemes for the poor that her government initiated, despite several criticisms from the New Delhi and Mumbai-based representatives of corporate India and the neo-liberal economy. She was keen to hold on her image of a merciful and omnipotent matriarch among the poor people of Tamil Nadu, whom she didn’t mind to kill or maim if they dared to raise their demands and waged genuine mass struggles during her reign.
For someone like O. Panneerselvam, whose only credibility lies in the fact that the ailing former Chief Minister had chosen him to lead the state in her absence as she was very much confident about his loyalty and his limited ambitions under her leadership. He neither has the charisma nor he commands the allegiance of the AIADMK leaders like the deceased Jayalalithaa.
As he lacked the major fanfare and cult of personality that celebrity turned politicians in the feudal Tamil society enjoys, so O. Panneerselvam was left with no other choice but to use the popularity of the deceased leader to win mass support in his favour when he found himself ousted from the power corridors.
After losing the Chief Minister’s seat to VK Sasikala, O. Panneerselvam tried to revive his own fortune by using the “spirit of Amma”, which he said, was guiding him to save the party from a catastrophe. Seeking refuge in superstition is another characteristic of Indian feudal politics, which use every institution of the dark age that has considerable influence on the masses, to evoke fear and demand loyalty from the people. Panneerselvam tried the same, though unsuccessfully. It seems that for the time being the spirits have different plans.
The last bid of Panneerselvam to defeat Sasikala, which again failed, showed how much influence the brand Jayalalitha still exerts on the AIADMK and how it’s possible to carry out all the evil deeds under the garb of “following the orders of Amma’s spirit” and get away with them. This cheap gimmick of Panneerselvam was another instance of spineless politics reigning at the top of the Dravidian heartland.
The Dominance of Horse Trading in Parliamentary Politics
As O. Panneerselvam received guidance from the late Jayalalithaa’s ‘spirit’, Sasikala started playing the most heinous game of Indian politics- the forceful confinement of lawmakers to prevent horse-trading by the rival camp. She sent the AIADMK legislators to a resort and locked them up there and took away their mobile phones; lest Panneerselvam should call.
The locking up of people’s representatives to prevent them from being lured by a rival politician is a sign that the people who win elections, who commit development to the electorate and work for their upliftment are nothing much than a bunch of power hungry people who can be bought and sold at a high price and can be lured to any camp of Indian politics by offering them larger share of power and money.
If the AIADMK legislators were truly the representatives of the people and are such upright people that they will not betray their party and its ideology (if any, except earning money), then why Sasikala wanted them to be locked up in an isolated resort under constant police vigil?
It’s a sign that even Sasikala, who recently became the party’s top leader, knew that it won’t be too hard for her foe O. Panneerselvam to wean away her supporters. Finally, when the Supreme Court convicted her in the corruption case, she had her proxy E. Palaniswami installed at the helm of the state and during a chaotic assembly session, the camp of Sasikala managed to pass the floor test.
The Peril for Democratic Values and Practices
Panneerselvam tried to play the role that once Jitan Ram Manjhi played in the Bihar assembly when he tried to retain power amidst efforts to oust him by Nitish Kumar. The proxy Chief Ministers and other such constitutional position holders are a blot on democratic system and principles.
The institutions of democracy demand the submission of the individual to the people and unfortunately, the prevalence of feudalism in India has changed this equation and is making a mockery of democracy since years.
Dynastic politics, feudal culture, and patriarchal organisational structures have turned politics into the trade of cult worship all over the country and this antithesis of democracy has settled as the new normal in the country’s politics, where a political party is weighted by the charisma of its leaders and not by its ideology or agenda.
Following this culture of cult worship is a threat to the remnants of democratic fervour, if any, and it will only help in the consolidation of power in the hands of few megalomaniac and unscrupulous characters, who may even escape the claws of law, unlike Jayalalithaa and Sasikala. This is cancer and Indian polity must be liberated from it.
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