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Jayalalithaa arrest – End of Dravidian Politics?


Used as it was to revolve around the whims and fancies of Jaya, the AIADMK has neither a clear second line nor a party machinery that can function in the aftermath of the conviction of Jayalalithaa.

The initial shock of following the conviction of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is yet to sink in fully within Tamil Nadu. Political observers, nevertheless are quick to point out that it is too early to write the political epitaph of the mercurial leader. Let me hasten to add they are not absolutely baseless. Jaya was written-off by these very political pundits on innumerable occasions in the past only to eat the humble pie shortly.

The repeated political reincarnation of Jayalalithaa is part of TN’s, why even India’s, political folklore. What made her comeback stunning every time in the past is that like the phoenix, she has risen from the proverbial ashes only to quixotically fall back into the very fire from which she rose in the first place.

Jayalalithaa, like the Bourbons of France, never seemed to learn anything. Nor did she forget anything.

The Law – not the Indian Penal Code but the Law of Karma – seems to have caught her on September 27 when the Special Court constituted to look into her assets disproportionate to her known sources of income, pronounced her guilty approximately 18 years after she was originally accused by Dr Subramanian Swamy.

In hindsight, it would seem that her fate was sealed once she was charge sheeted in 1997. To add fat to fire this case was moved out of Chennai on the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to Bengaluru. This was on the back of her triumphant return to power in 2001 despite being chargesheeted in this case [and convicted in another] on the ground that it was impossible to conduct a free and fair trial in Chennai when she was the CM.

That was more than a decade back; much water has flown through the Cooum. Times have changed and with it, the perception of the common man towards corruption, especially by our elected representatives. The proactive stance of some in the civil society and a few within the media have added to the hydraulic pressure built by the common man in this war against corruption. So has the approach of courts, especially lower courts, in such politically sensitive cases in recent times.

In a country where minions have been put behind bars for taking bribes of a few hundred rupees, it was inexplicable that the rich and the powerful could scoot after their loot running into crores of rupees. To this extent, this verdict is a gamechanger in Indian politics.

Courts, especially Trial Courts, that till recently appeared to play footsie with such accused, somewhere seem to have acquired the necessary verve to take on the political class.

What Next?
Naturally, while her conviction was not totally unexpected – given the mood of the judiciary, the common man and the facts of the case – it appears that the AIADMK was caught totally unawares. In fact, in the run-up to the verdict, one noticed a suspended sense of disbelief amongst the cadres as well as leaders of that party.

And pray why not? After all, they have all been witness to such great escapes in the past. So for them it was yet another episode – a bit of distraction as it was for over eighteen years, nothing more, nothing less.

Naturally, when the conviction was announced, the party was completely paralysed. Used as it was to revolve around the whims and fancies of Jaya, the AIADMK has neither a clear second line nor a party machinery that can function in the aftermath of the conviction of Jayalalithaa.

Despite this odious comment, I must candidly admit that she had a humane side — probably undiscovered by her party men and more particularly by the media.

Notwithstanding her track record to rise from the ashes and given the fact that Jaya is convicted and hence cannot contest for six years after her conviction ends, it is but natural to conclude that AIADMK faces a bleak future. While theoretically this must be advantage DMK – the political adversary of AIADMK – political analysts are not sanguine whether DMK could be the net political gainer.

The reasons for the same are not far to seek. Having built its political programme on an anti-Jaya agenda, DMK would find it virtually impossible to set any agenda in the absence of Jaya. And Jaya obliged the DMK by repeatedly committing mistakes for the latter to exploit!

That meant the DMK never offered any clear development agenda for the people of Tamil Nadu. For too long, the people of TN have been fooled by its pro-Tamil rhetoric, sectarian ideology and its nebulous economic ideas. That explains why the DMK in turn repeatedly lost power to Jaya the next time around. It takes two to tango, isn’t it?

More importantly, the DMK also knows that it is a matter of time that the 2G verdict possibly implicating his daughter could be out. That explains the studied silence of M Karunanidhi to the conviction of Jaya on corruption!

Will the Dravidian Vote De-Freeze?
To answer that question, it is pertinent to understand the political ideology of the DMK – the first Dravidian party. Formed in the 1950s with the grand idea of providing equal opportunities to the backward classes and preserve Tamil pride, the DMK soon degenerated into a corrupt organisation by the 1970s under the leadership of M Karunanidhi.

That created a political vacuum resulting in the spectacular rise of MG Ramachandran who broke away from the DMK and formed the AIADMK. It was after the death of MGR and several inner party wranglings that Jaya succeeded in becoming its supreme leader. Over a period of time, the benign MGR-Karunanidhi political rivalry transformed into a bitter Jaya-Karunanidhi political war.

This in turn meant the entire political edifice in Tamil Nadu was rooted to personalities; not the [nebulous] ideology for what they were formed. That explains why the DMK would find it difficult in the absence of Jaya as it would be difficult for Jaya in the absence of Karunanidhi.

More importantly, for the State of Tamil Nadu, on matters of governance, there were hardly any differentials on substance between the DMK and AIADMK. That meant the TN electorate were left with a choice between Tweedledum and Twedledee! And always the party in Opposition looked better than the party in power. That in turn explains why TN repeatedly booted the incumbent Government for the past three decades.

And the idea of development for both these parties was always through State intervention – read freebies. If Anna gave free TV, Amma had to necessarily give free grinder. In the process, right from selling the tender forms to rigging the tender to suit cronies, it was corruption all around. No wonder the finances of the State are in a complete mess.

And to finance such largesse, the Tamil Nadu Government vends liquor through the TASMAC and also borrows significantly. This has ruined the health of the people of Tamil Nadu while simultaneously pauperising them as it has the finances of the State.

In short, competitive populism, corruption, parochial ideas and pandering to the “Tamil Sentiments” [whatever that may mean] unites all Dravidian parties. People, particularly the youth of the State, are fed up.

This in turn offers a window of opportunity to both the Congress and the BJP to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu. However, both suffer from some peculiar disadvantages – Congress has a pantheon of leaders who think they and no one else, even within the Congress, can be the Chief Minister of TN oblivious to the fact that they lack grassroot workers.

If the Congress suffers from a “problem of plenty”, the BJP suffers from a lack of one credible face! Both of them are paying a price for ignoring Tamil Nadu and holding on to the coat-tails of one of the two Dravidian parties for over three decades.

As the two Dravidian parties wither, 75 per cent of the voters, compelled to choose between the two Dravidian parties or its clones, feel politically orphaned. Surely, they will be looking at alternatives – read the Development Agenda. But to take advantage of the situation, the BJP [as should the Congress] must first get its house in order. Secondly, they must believe that they can. And finally they must offer a credible development programme.

To many in Tamil Nadu, the BJP and the Congress have been surfing on “Dravidian Lite” for too long. For most, both these national parties have been pale versions of the Dravidian Parties and not a robust group that could instead challenge them.

For too long, local leaders of these two national parties are seen to be compromised from within and hence clueless on the aspirations of the people of TN. The Billion Dollar question is this: Will both these national parties provide alternatives? Do the national parties read the political fallout of Jaya’s conviction? Or is the State condemned to the Dravidian parties even as they wither into oblivion?


Last modified on Friday, 31 October 2014 17:36