Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mani Shankar Aiyar - Sasikala's Gross Miscalculation And The Mess That Followed

... As for her MLAs and MPs, Jayalalithaa rarely allowed anyone a second term. Most candidates were astonished at their being chosen, so limited was their aspiration and so unexpected was the consummation. Moreover, as they sometimes discovered to their chagrin, even after nomination and in the midst of their hectic campaigning, could and did change her mind to field an alternative candidate. Their sole qualification was that if Jayalalithaa would order them to raise their hand, they would raise their hand; if she asked them to lower their hand, they would solemnly obey. To have a mind of your own was anathema to Amma (as the most articulate spokesman of the party in parliament, Maitreyan, found when he was suddenly expelled from the front-bench to the rear of the Rajya Sabha). Amma knew best, and Amma must at all times be humbly obeyed.

Even in her choice of interim Chief Minister, she made clear that she had no No. 2 - that everyone without exception was in position because she had so decreed, and would lose that position at her will and without question. Hence, OPS never became her automatic replacement despite having been appointed acting Chief Minister by Jayalalithaa thrice over. Similarly, Sasikala was never anointed her successor and so her succession has been easily called to account.

In early December, Jayalalithaa was no more. The AIADMK, within the party and in the legislature, scrambled to deal with this situation. The simple route was the knee-jerk arrangement they put together: Sasikala as General Secretary of the party, and OPS as Chief Minister. It was a non-controversial set of decisions - except that it did not have Jayalalithaa's seal of approval.

It unravelled when Sasikala persuaded herself, or was so persuaded by her legal team, that were she to become Chief Minister, her chances of surviving the Supreme Court trial would be much enhanced. The very suddenness of the Supreme Court announcement that they would be rendering final judgement the following week, made it imperative for Sasikala, in her own eyes and in the assessment of her advisers, to believe it was Now or Never. The party fell in with her wishes as a kind of reflex action. Why then did that decision not hold beyond a day or two?

One has to go back to the origins of the Dravidian movement to really understand the volte face. The first expression of Dravidian political sentiment was the Justice Party that made dramatic inroads into the Tamil polity in the 1920s - but not enough to foil Rajaji of the Congress in the elections of 1937. Meanwhile, E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, "Periyar" (The Wise Elder) as he was reverentially called, had emerged as the most important voice of the Dravidian movement. His goal was the trifurcation of British India into Hindustan, Pakistan and Dravida Nadu. Dravida Nadu was conceived as covering virtually all of the Madras Presidency that stretched beyond Tamil Nadu to Malabar in north Kerala, and along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, through Andhra, all the way to Behrampore in Odisha. That goal was clearly articulated when Periyar welcomed Mohammed Ali Jinnah to Madras (Chennai) in April 1941 for the first annual session of the Muslim League following the adoption of the "Pakistan" resolution in Lahore the previous year.

Pakistan happened but Dravida Nadu did not. Periyar's was a sweeping social reforms programme dedicated to ending Brahmin and priestly domination of Tamil society. It was a programme that went beyond politics and addressed itself to the roots of social issues. While Periyar had been something of an acolyte in his early youth, journeying all the way to Varanasi to steep himself in Hindu spiritual thought and religious ritual, his deep study of Vedic and other Hindu texts only served to create a profound aversion in his mind to anything that smacked of religion. Atheism and rationalism became the touch-stone of his philosophy and Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) cadres and leaders were pledged to denying God and His self-appointed agents on earth, the Brahmin community. The Dravida Nadu that he envisaged was a fierce assertion of the Aryan-Dravidian divide, as he saw it. Periyar believed in establishing a revolutionary new social order and prioritized the propagation of this ideology over the mere capture of political power... read more: