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Sasikala takeover of Tamil Nadu chief ministership is a slap on the face of democracy

Apoorva Pathak
Apoorva PathakFeb 07, 2017 | 12:51

Sasikala takeover of Tamil Nadu chief ministership is a slap on the face of democracy

After prolonged anticipation, the much speculated takeover of the Tamil Nadu CM's chair by Sasikala is about to materialise.

Sasikala will be the third woman to be CM of the state. Her rise from a humble background to becoming the most powerful person in one of India's largest and most industrialised state could have been a source of validation for the depth of Indian democracy - instead the manner of her rise has cast doubts on the substance of Indian democracy itself. Here's why:

1) Sasikala's power flowed from the leader, not the people

The rise of Sasikala comes without her ever having received the mandate of the people for any public office - not even of an MLA. Besides, she has not held a formal role in the party before; all her power flowed from being the gatekeeper of Jayalalithaa, allowing her to decide who got access to the iconic AIADMK leader.

Thus, the power of Sasikala flowed from the leader, instead of flowing from the people - as should be in a democracy. The people have been given no role whatsoever in deciding whether they actually want to be led by Sasikala; they have been handed a fait-accompli by the higher echelons of AIADMK.

An inexperienced person has been handed over the reigns of a state with crores of people - in effect a gamble has been played.

2) Shrouded in secrecy

The manner of Sasikala's ascension, with its inner palace coups and plots, has been shrouded in secrecy. The public not only had no role in deciding the outcome of the process, they were also kept in the dark about the process, if at all there was one.

In a democracy, people have the right to know, transparency in polity is fundamental to democracy.

AIADMK may point out that it is not alone in its opaque operations. Yes, it's a sad fact that Indian political parties work more like private corporations, without much transparency and Sasikala's opaque rise is a reminder of that.

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Sasikala is infamously said to lead the Mannargudi mafia. 

3) Indicts our polity for lack of systems for creating leaders

An inexperienced person without the stamp of public approval becoming CM of one of the largest states in an opaque manner is also an indictment of our polity's failure to institutionalise systems for creating leaders.

The Indian polity is notably stale without much churn at the top levels, with the same people having occupied the space for god knows how many years.

In Tamil Nadu too, for over two decades, Amma and DMK patriarch Karunanidhi dominated the political landscape without any real challengers emerging from within their parties. 

In contrast, most mature democracies like the US and UK see regular churning of leadership, thereby allowing a broader availability of talent to lead the state and avoiding overdependence of the polity on a handful of people.

Also, the constant churning makes it more likely for capable public spirited people to enter public life, as the entry barrier is not high. 

But our parties, without inner party democracy, have failed in churning out new leaders and have depended on the same old ones - and often, the death of leaders inevitably creates a vacuum which more often than not we are not able to fill. Sasikala's ascension is primarily because of this vacuum in Tamil Nadu after Amma's death.

4) The lack of significant resistance within AIADMK shows how intra-party checks and balances have collapsed

What has been disturbing in the whole episode of Sasikala's takeover of the party and state government is how little resistance she faced from within the AIADMK. By all accounts, the public is not very enthused about Sasikala and she remains quite unpopular.

Within the AIADMK too, there has been silent discontent but no significant and formal resistance. 

Political parties are supposed to reflect public will, but here not only is the AIADMK failing in its job but also none within it are willing to stick their neck out. This collapsing of inner party dissent robs our democracy of important instrument of checks and balance.

5) A polity without morality

Sasikala's elevation comes even while the Supreme Court is set to pronounce its judgment on the corruption charges against her. In fact, the haste in her ascension seems in part an effort to pre-empt the judgment. If she is convicted, she will become ineligible for public office but by assuming the post it becomes easier for her to re-enter public life if she indeed goes to jail.

Sasikala is infamously said to lead the Mannargudi mafia. Why should Tamil Nadu be subjected to the rule of someone whose integrity is seriously suspect?

Also, how moral is it for AIADMK to be oblivious to the corruption taint on Sasikala? How proper is it for the party to become an accomplice in her bid to pre-empt the judicial pronouncement? 

The discomforting rise of Sasikala becomes still more discomforting as it reveals to us a polity bereft of morality.

Last updated: February 07, 2017 | 12:51
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