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Where Democracy Fails: The Acid Test In Tamil Nadu

February 19, 2017

The Underbelly Of The Great Indian Democracy


Democracy is not a foolproof political ideology. We know that from Adolf Hitler in the past to today’s Donald Trump.

We still opt for Democratic process for lack of other viable options.

There have been exceptional scenarios unraveling in India’s horizons that could make one question the very validity and astuteness besides the core concept and vision of Democratic ideologue.

From Central to State politics, Democracy has at times come up with unexpected casualties that are sort of collateral damages.

Here I am about to explore in brief what is happening in Tamil Nadu, my home state right now, and in the circumstances the prevalence of precedent, if any.



When Congress party staged a surprise come-back in 2004 General Elections, the nation would not have Sonia Gandhi for prime minister given her non-desi roots. Dr. Manmohan Singh was a safe bet, him having handled India’s finance minister portfolio under ex-prime minister P V Narasimha Rao. But Dr. Singh never had to contest any Assembly election let alone Parliamentary elections. His posting as Governor of Reserve Bank of India was purely an apolitical appointment as also as the Head of Planning Commission, both of which offices he assumed as a bureaucrat. Later he became the Finance minister, handpicked by Rao when Congress won the 1991 Lok Sabha elections riding high on sympathy wave after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The promotion was considered a natural step by political observers who hailed the choice of prime minister Rao. As Indian economy was ‘opened up’ by Rao in landmark budget reforms that were to steer the nation in a different and hitherto uncharted course shortly, Dr. Singh’s economic vision was widely acclaimed to be bold and encouraging by political analysts and economists.

A similar back-door route landed Dr. Singh in the Prime Minister’s office a good ten years later when India’s grand old party returned to power once again in the Lok Sabha elections advanced by BJP in power. Prime Minister Singh was unanimous choice of the party and his election to PM post was vetoed/ratified by his election to Rajya Sabha or the Upper House, from Assam, nominated by Congress party to which he now was affiliated. (The Rajya Sabha nominations require a separate and detailed study that I am not delving into presently).

So therefore India offers out-of-box options (or perhaps unconstitutional means) for someone to be elected for plum posts through backdoor policies as it happened in the case of Dr. Manmohan Singh who went on to serve the nation as prime minister for 10 long but fruitless years. Ex-PM Rao too had retired from the political scene but was brought back to forefront when the nation was in crisis and the congress party was in dire need of a senior leader to take on the PM’s job in post-Rajiv scenario. He later redeemed/ratified his appointment by winning a Lok Sabha MP seat from his native state Andhra Pradesh within the stipulated six months. But Rao was an immensely popular man by his own right, who had a lengthy and colourful political career behind him that guaranteed him his Lower House berth which was a mandatory criteria for occupying the PM’s chair. Either that or the Rajya Sabha berth. Of the two choices, the Rajya Sabha fitted Dr. Singh’s bill as it was a foregone conclusion that the low-profile Manmohan Singh was incapable of securing a single Lok Sabha MP seat on his own might contesting public elections where a candidate must  face cirectly the electorate in his constituency. Dr. Singh had remained a bureaucrat all his life, with zero acquaintance with the public.

A quick recap: Out of the 250 Rajya Sabha MPs, 238 members are nominated by the States and the rest 12 are nominated by the President. That is how Sachin Tendulkar became a Rajya Sabha MP. He was the president’s candidate (presumably on Sports quota).  One-third of Rajya Sabha MPs are also rotated every 2 years. So it is also possible that at times, the ruling government in the center with an absolute two-thirds majority in Lok Sabha may still have to put up with a hostile Rajya Sabha if in case the MPs from the previous government should be concurrently holding the upper house house office having been nominated by non-allies in State governments. Recently there was an opinion in media on why therefore Rajya Sabha elections must be held concurrently with the Lok Sabha elections. As we know, this is not the case. This is why disruptions in Rajya Sabha are a regular affair nowadays. For Bills to be introduced, passing the acid Rajya Sabha test is easy neither if the House weighs heavily in favour of the opposition nominees, even if the presiding government at the center may be holding an overwhelming majority. The Rajya Sabha is a mixed draw.

So this is the national scene. The State scene is not very different but very much corresponding in nature. A chief minister can thus similarly be elected to lead the state without having to contest a poll in the State Assembly elections. The elected MLAs of the ruling party, as directly elected representatives of their constituencies, can vote a non-elected party member to the top ministerial post in the state government.

This is what is  happening today in Tamil Nadu. Until Jayalalitha Jayaraam was holding office, Sasikala Natarajan was neither a member of the ADMK party nor did she hold any bureaucratic post. She was mostly confined to shadows. Soon upon Amma’s death, Sasikala is in spotlight, overnight having taken over as the General Secretary of AIADMK. She could have got elected already as chief minister by our elected representatives or MLAs. The Governor takes credit for pending his decision. The ADMK party holds a majority mandate in the state from 2014 Assembly elections and it is not even an year since Jayalalitha assumed her office for a record fifth term. A solid four years are left out.

If not for the Disproportionate Assets case in which she was convicted and with her starting to serve her sentence in Bangalore cell, Sasikala could very well be the chief minister of Tamil Nadu by now, without any merit, without necessary qualification, with zero experience in administration and political affairs, only by virtue of ‘muscle power’ and ‘purchasing power’ her family is notoriously touted for.  The tragedy is that, there are these loopholes in our Constitution that allow this kind of backdoor but absolutely legal entry by unscrupulous people that has not yet been checked in last 70 years of Indian independence. Whole of Tamil Nadu is held to ransom by the ‘Mannargudi Mafia’ for this reason but the realization has come a bit too late. The urban and rural population of the state have rudely been shaken awake to disturbing reality that the family ‘cartel’  has been building a quiet empire over last 25 years until very recently when they emerged from shadows, with JJ’s hospitalization in Apollo and on her mysterious and unexplained death.

What next: Sasikala on her conviction probably cannot aspire for the CM’s chair for next 10 years but her appointee can. She can still function as the party’s general secretary from behind the bars. Meanwhile she could be out on parole very shortly given the loopholes in Indian judiciary system. In effect, she may not be serving her entire sentence of 4 years within her cell.

Edappadi Palanisamy, a notorious Sasikala group right hand (or sidekick to be precise), is now the CM amid rumours afloat that even before he could be sworn in, he had to sign a blank page/resignation letter. The top post will be reserved exclusively for Sasikala’s family member. If you ask for specifics, it could be TTV Dinakaran, her nephew who could be next in the line for CM. So now we Tamils find ourselves in a very strange predicament: ascension to power (against people’s will) of yet another political dynastic waiting in the cusp, who are steeped chin-deep in mindless corruption even before they have assumed their official powers. Goes without saying that if this family party owning over a thousand business enterprises is going to control the state in next four years, it is going to be nothing short of nightmare for the general public.

When a state CM (O Panneer Selvam) (OPS) could be (reportedly) thrashed and made to sign a resignation letter after the dubious (murder?) death of the most powerful and popular and charismatic CM of over four terms Jayalalitha Jayaram, you cannot expect anything less foreboding from these gangsters.

Bad news for business people, professionals, anyone. Last heard: even the Phoenix Mall of Chennai has been ‘acquired.’

Where is this going to go now from here.

My heart bleeds at the condition of my normally passive State. Our people are very law-abiding. Academically oriented. It is rare to see something even like the recent Jallikattu protests. The peaceful movement was a culmination of disinterest and mistrust and restlessness of the masses after JJ’s suspicious death.

It is hightime our legal statutes are revisited for revisions after taking cue from what is now unfolding in Tamil Nadu. This is NOT democracy. People of Tamil Nadu voted for Jayalalitha Jayaram – NOT EVEN FOR HER MLAs or for AIADMK party. The MLAs have NO LEGAL STANDING TO TRADE OFF OUR VOTES FOR THEIR PERSONAL BENEFITS. It is hightime the clause that empowers an individual to stake claim to CM’s chair by cowardly means is scrapped;  if TTV Dinakaran or Edappadi Palanisamy or Sasikala or Natarajan dream of one day occupying the coveted chair, let them courageously face their electorate in Assembly elections where they will learn some home truths directly from voters who will not hesitate to exercise their franchises to show them the doors. The political will of PEOPLE OF TAMIL NADU MUST PREVAIL. 

It was indeed a surprise to many of us when MMS could weave his way to PMO through Rajya Sabha. The loophole must have been plugged right then and there. Now we the public of Tamil Nadu are paying the price for the hindsight.

I can’t guess the logic behind the back channel exploited by some vested interests in the otherwise strong and stable democracy of India, unarguably the largest in the world. Our Lok Sabha or Parliamentary elections are a mammoth exercise the world watches with interest and awe. If our constitution merits amendments, we may not defer them any further. It is time to tweak the necessary statutes and make provisions for ratifying the election to PM/CM’s chair by a candidate ONLY on/by his/her securing the MP/MLA seat in Lok Sabha/Assembly constituency elections within a stipulated time-frame of 6 months. India does not need someone to head the nation/state who may fall short of winning the supreme confidence of his/her electorate. Only free and fair public elections can give credence and authenticity to the high chair claimed by an aspirant, losing which he/she will be condemned to nothingness. Such an amended clause will pre-exempt greedy mongers and only the meritorious shall survive the acid test of legitimacy.

Today saw a ruckus breaking out in Tamil Nadu Assembly. The opposition and the OPS faction wanted a secretive ballot while the Saskikala side wanted an open headcount (naturally) (after all the MLAs have been sequestered in an ECR resort in Koovathur for 15 days now). With the opposition DMK walking out after disrupting the Assembly, the Floor Test was still conducted by the Speaker of the house that saw the Sasikala proxi Edappadi Palanisamy being elected the CM on majority vote (by MLAs).  (Ofcourse the jury is still out on the Speaker’s alleged illegal move). The (temporary) (acting) Governor of Tamil Nadu Vidyasagar Rao had previously acceded to the stake claimed by Edappadi to form a government.

What next: The government can still be dissolved with a mere 6 vote swing in future to the breakaway OPS faction or to opposition DMK which is expected to materialize sooner or later.

Who are the stake-holders? If BJP is party to the spoils, they may ensure a 4 year remaining term to Mannargudi Mafia. Whether it is going to be Sasikala or Edappadi or TTV Dinakaran at the helm of the affairs is immaterial to them. They must have hard-bargained by now for atleast 35-40 MP seats in Tamil Nadu in next Lok Sabha elections that Amma would never be conceding should she be around. This is the only way BJP can make a successful (?) foray into Tamil Nadu political scene. Whether they will capitalize on this golden opportunity is a million dollar question. They will be piggy-backing on the ADMK brand naturally. In the meanwhile, it will be BJP that will work behind the scenes in Tamil Nadu from now on. The CM will be a dummy piece as also the entire elected government. The show will be run by the center and the ‘vested interests’ will have to remain content with their shares of spoils. If things are to span out accordingly, the BJP could have a chance to carve out a niche for itself in the state finally. Tall order, but not entirely impossible if they play it out right.Tamil Nadu could find itself turning into ‘investors destination.’

The general word is, PM Narendra Modi demonetized the country to get his name engraved in rural India, especially in the Dravidian heartland. Because if you take the case of Tamil Nadu, there are ignorant masses in the state for whom Modi and Pakistan and Delhi and Kashmir may still draw a complete BLANK! I always wondered how rural India distinguished between the central and state elections when both could be held simultaneously. But curiously they seem to make out the difference although they may not be aware of specific names as such. Congress has been a household name for generations so the south has awareness in this respect. ‘The Hand’ (congress symbol) they used to say, was everywhere. Omnipresent. But BJP is relatively new, young and inexperienced. And names like Modi are obscurest deep down south. Well, he could be our prime minister but he is no Indira Gandhi. She was familiar figure. But with demonetization, Modi is now a household name even in most backward and far-flung areas of Tamil Nadu though he may not be referred to ‘affectionately’ by any chance!

BJP’s cunning moves are deplorable but by now the people of Tamil Nadu are exhausted and past caring. We are ready to return to the central party era. After all Kamaraj was the best ever CM the state had and he was the last congress leader in the state. It is in his time Tamil Nadu saw maximum growth in 1950s and ’60s, with literacy skyrocketing to record levels and with irrigation and industrial schemes kicking off. Primary education became mandatory with free lunch scheme launched as incentive in municipal schools. The state was soon on its road to success as one of India’s leading beacons of progress and prosperity. 1968 (says my husband is the start of all troubles 😀 ) saw the Congress party flailing and the Dravidian parties coming to rule, winning State Assembly elections for the first time.

The words of my wise grandmother still haunt me, ‘with DMK dawned the Porukki brigade of Tamil Nadu’ (and you cannot blame Subramanyam Swamy any longer), and ask any Tamilian senior citizen, he/she may tell you the same thing. Kamaraj was heckled as ‘eunuch’ by DMK president Karunanidhi who founded his infamous empire on vast trenches of corruption for the first time once again in state history since India’s independence. The DMK role in Rajiv Gandhi  assassination case is ambiguous as per Jain Commission report.

We were a very active and politically-aware kind of girls in highschool. I was in standard 12 when we had this girl called Usha Sundaram in our class. There were many frauds committed by DMK government in its first term that included the ‘Veeranam’ water pipeline project and the so-called ‘Kappal bera oozhal’ (the shipping industry scandal). In this connection there was a Karunanidhi interview in a Tamil weekly (probably ‘Kumkumam’ which was his party-owned). ‘Where is the kappal (ship)??? Where is the evidence??? Since we do not have it,  how can we be held responsible?’ said he in the interview. My friend said, ‘ it is akin to saying, i only attempted rape but did not get to actually rape. i was prevented and caught red-handed before that. how can you try me for the criminal offence that I could not complete committing?!’

Usha Sundaram’s arguments are etched in my memory from all those years back in the year 1986, during our lunch hour one fine day. All of us friends are knitted now  via social media – we happily found each other after many hick-ups, but Usha Sundaram, the girl I adored most in my class still remains elusive. It is like she has vanished into thin air. No traces of the super brilliant, fatherless, depressed and sad recluse… She was from Besant Nagar. No, nobody has a clue and none saw her ever after since Class 12.

The rest is history.







From → Dilli Durbar

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