A New Successor in Tamil Nadu

THE election of  VK Sasikala, the aide and confidante of the late J Jayalalithaa,  as the leader of the legislative party of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in order to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu has opened a new chapter in the political game being played out in the post-Jayalalithaa period. 

After proposing her name for the leadership of the legislative party, O Paneerselvam, the incumbent chief minister, who had resigned, has now come out against the change. This has caused some political turbulence but Sasikala is bent upon proving that she has the support of the overwhelming members of party MLAs.

The manner in which Sasikala has been proposed for the chief ministership has met with a varied response and raised some questions.  Technically, the legislative party of the AIADMK is well within its right to elect a person who is not a member of the legislature as its leader.  The legal provision is that a person who is sworn-in as the chief minister has to be elected to the legislature within six months of the person assuming office.

In this particular case, the question of propriety has arisen since the verdict of the Supreme Court on the appeal in the disproportionate assets case in which Sasikala was involved, along with Jayalalithaa, is pending.   In fact, the very next day after the election of Sasikala as the legislative party leader, the Supreme Court Bench concerned has announced that it will deliver its verdict next week.  It is in this context that a legitimate question has arisen – why Sasikala could not have waited for the verdict to clear her before assuming office. 

This is all the more pertinent as O Paneerselvam had already taken over as the chief minister after the demise of Jayalalithaa, just a few weeks ago.   Paneerselvam’s choice was not unexpected, having stood in as the chief minister for Jayalalithaa twice earlier.

There is a wider question which is agitating a substantial section of the people in Tamil Nadu.  Sasikala was known to be a personal assistant of the former chief minister, Jayalalithaa, for a long time.  She was not holding any key position in the AIADMK, nor, did she hold any position in any elected body.  She was widely seen as part of a coterie in Jayalalithaa’s household which used to exercise power behind the scenes.  The role of her family members was also controversial. 

Sasikala becoming the leader of the party and the chief minister in quick succession is causing understandable resentment among sections of the people, including those who are loyal supporters of the AIADMK.   Jayalalithaa was a mass leader, notwithstanding her defects and authoritarian style of functioning, and she had inherited the leadership of the AIADMK from another tall mass leader, MG Ramachandran.  Sasikala has yet to establish her acceptability among the AIADMK supporters and appeal among the masses.

There is also another aspect which has a vital bearing on political parties in a parliamentary democracy.  The last two decades have seen the rise of family control and dynastic politics in the regional parties.  Family interests intertwined with business interests are taking precedence in many of the regional parties. A prime example is Punjab, where the chief minister and deputy chief minister are father and son and constitute the leadership of the Akali Dal.

In the case of the AIADMK, while Sasikala was not a family member of Jayalalithaa, she acted as a surrogate family member.  This phenomenon is contributing to the degeneration of the ideology and programmes of the regional parties.

To restore the health of the party-based democratic system and ideology-based politics, it is necessary to curb this trend and for parties to adhere to democratic principles of functioning. 

(February 9, 2017)

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