TN, TINA and the lack of Conscience!!!

In May last year, when Tamil Nadu (TN) was in the throes of election I had written a post titled ‘The NOTA Conundrum’ (read here) where I had said that in TN, people have to make a choice when there is actually none.  Between the 2 leading Dravidian parties namely the DMK and ADMK there has been so little to choose from in the last 2 decades. Both the outfits are bereft of any ideology or ideas, are equally corrupt, excel in competitive “freebieism” and have been consumed by family intrigues – one own and the other extended. In that sense TN has been suffering from “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) syndrome. Since NOTA (None Of The Above) was not an option, the people of TN did make a choice of electing ADMK under the leadership of Jayalalitha. (I hate the Amma, Chinnamma sobriquets).  However it would be a grave mistake to conclude that it was a Jayalalitha wave or a massive mandate for ADMK. In fact analysis (read here) shows that DMK actually pipped ADMK in terms of the “Contested vote share” and was actually weighed down badly by the poor performance of its allies. Be that as it may, unfortunately for TN since the elections and the return of ADMK, it has been bogged down by one crisis after the other – the demise of Jayalalitha, the Wardah cyclone, the Jallikattu ban controversy and now the ongoing reality show of Sasikala trying to usurp the reigns of the state. Governance in TN has been holidaying in some “Bay resort” or recuperating in Apollo Hospital for some time now.

That being the case, the question that begs to be asked is what was the hurry for Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister now? After Jayalalitha’s demise, she was able to smoothly appropriate the reigns of the party and became the General Secretary without much ado. In Panneerselvam (OPS) she had a man who has always been pliable and willing to toe the line as long as his interests are taken care of. So the best option for Sasikala was to follow the “Sonia Gandhi model”. Enjoy authority without responsibility by doing back seat driving of OPS from Poes Garden.  If the Government under OPS did well, Sasikala could have still got the credit diverted to her through her sycophant brigade of MLAs and Ministers. And if things went wrong, OPS could have been made the fall guy. This could have helped in moulding public opinion in her favour as a person who listened to her inner voice and made the sacrifice of not going after power. But all this was not to be.

In a very hurried and ill-advised move just when the state was returning to normal after seemingly scoring a win in the Jallikattu issue, Sasikala decided to ascend the throne by de-seating OPS. OPS after initially playing ball decided to run Sasikala out. After his well-choreographed chat with Amma’s Atma for 40 over minutes (not 5 or 10 mins but 40 which was the time needed for the TV cameras to reach Marina beach from wherever they were) spilled the beans on the machinations of Sasikala. He put paid to her ambitions and her so far crafted public image. From being the natural claimant to Jayalalitha’s legacy just a few weeks back to becoming the Villian No. 1, the descent for Sasikala has been steep.  And OPS morphed to becoming a paragon of virtue. Meme factories the best testimonials so far to the Make in India program aided the transition of OPS from a “starter” to being the “main course”!

What explains this Sasikala camp not following the “Sonia Gandhi model”?

Was it the chase for money? I don’t think so. In fact authority sans responsibility is the best way to get a share of the booty while dodging what our erudite CEA Arvind Subramaniam calls as 4cs – Courts, CVC, CBI and CAG which today torment politicians in power!!!

Could it be the lust for absolute power? That narcissist feeling of seeing your name prefixed with Chief Minister when the opportunity is at striking distance is certainly tempting for anybody. So, this could have been the reason though as per me, the headaches that come along may not be worth it. That too when you can still enjoy the fruits of power by wielding the remote control.

I think that there is more to than meets the eye. It is possible that OPS is in the know of the shenanigans of Sasikala in the last few years. So the most plausible reason could be the insecurity that OPS may let the Govt. machinery have a go at the Mannargudi Mafia as it is called now with the sleight of hand of the centre.  This would pose a 24*7*365 check on her aspirations while giving the impression of her wielding power when she is not.  I conjecture that this could be the reason for Sasikala & Co. in deciding to pull the plug on OPS as CM so early. More time could have only cemented OPS’ position.

What would have been a smooth transition had OPS played his usual submissive self, has turned into a pitch battle now. The “Game of Thrones” is now playing out on our TV screens for the past 1 week putting reality shows to shame.  Herding and hiding of MLA’s in luxury resorts an idea contributed to Indian polity by Chandrababu Naidu I think is past its prime. MLAs one by one jumping ship from Sasikala to OPS on an hourly basis only brings to the fore the need for a “Conscience vote”. In India, the Anti defection law originally meant for stopping the Aaya ram gaya ram politics of the 80’s has put a lid on the conscience vote totally. Today a MLA or an MP has no option but to toe the high command line lest he/she will be disqualified under the Anti Defection law. This has effectively stymied dissent in democracy. Though the lack of conscience vote is not an issue in the ongoing TN saga, I reckon lack of conscience is.

I feel that if our legislators are allowed to vote with their conscience confidentially on all issues may it be related to internal democracy (like electing their leader) or voting on a bill, our country will be a better place. Till such time, those honest people wanting to enter politics may have to wait.

ops-sasiPic Courtesy: Indiatoday.in

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The “NOTA” Conundrum!!!

The country now is in election mode. Well, almost perennially India suffers from election fever. If it’s not the Lok Sabha elections which come now a days once in 5 years (thankfully), we have state elections in the 30+ states usually in clusters every 6-9 months. Just when we came out of the Bihar election grip, we have presently 4 states namely Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam in the cusp of elections. Though sitting in Mumbai I am far off from the theatre of action, I can sense a common feeling atleast in 3 states one that is of despondency! Except for Assam, the despondency arises out of frustration of making a choice when there is actually none!  My reading is purely based on what I read, see, watch and deduct from the media. Thankfully apart from the mainstream media we also have the social media which provides additional insights.

In Tamil Nadu, since the demise of MGR in late eighties, people have been alternating between the two Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK. DMK was thrown out in the last state elections after public realized that they couldn’t keep pace with the complex family tree of its leader Karunanidhi. They opted for the simpler “2 leaves” only to realize that grass is greener on the other side. Though AIADMK started off well with the Amma branded social interventions, in the last 2/3 years Governance in Tamil Nadu has been Ram ke barose! Ace historian and author Ramachandra Guha once mentioned that Tamil Nadu had always a much disciplined bureaucracy which ensured efficient and smooth running of the Government. But this alone cannot substitute for executive vision and direction for the state. That too in today’s age of competitive federalism. Within India it is clearly a zero sum game. One state’s loss is certainly another’s gain.  With its leader medically not fit and the second rung leaders mentally not fit and only keen to beat their own set standards of sycophancy, the ruling party AIADMK has certainly failed its voters. The irony is, the other choice which people used to have namely the DMK – the situation is worse. An ailing leader in his 90’s who is unable to keep his house/family in order is hardly an inspiration for people who expect to put their state in order. Apart from these, there are 2/3 more fronts who are at best competing for the consolation prize! BJP has no local leadership to boast of, Captain’s party leads only in providing comic relief and PMK is at best a caste based outfit with limited reach. This is the first time I noticed in Tamil Nadu a sense of lack of interest among common people like Taxi drivers,… on the poll outcome!!! They only wish that whoever comes doesn’t rock the boat. So the expectations are quite timid.

West Bengal is another tale of irony. People there voted “in” Mamata who promised Poriborton by over throwing the Communists who had an iron clutch over the state for 30 odd years. 5 years hence, the only Poriborton seems to be the change in colour of paint in public buildings – from Red to Blue!!! Otherwise the Mamata led Trinamool Congress is another communist outfit with a Congress name! The state is struggling to attract industrial investments inspite of having an erudite industry friendly economist as Finance Minister. With this situation, the choice before the Bengalis is a tough one! Whether to give Mamata more time for bringing in Poriborton or to change themselves and go back to the Communist regime. The Communists who have smartly tied up with Congress in the state with a fervent hope that Arithmetic may help where Chemistry fails do not yet have a visible leader in the state. The idiom of “choosing between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” doesn’t need any better example!  BJP which is the 3rd choice is an emerging force in WB. Still emerging.

In God’s Own Country, God only knows what will happen. A state which routinely toggles between the Congress led UDF and Communists led LDF by that logic has to turn “left” this time over. I feel that frankly in a state that is kept afloat by foreign inward remittances, the people don’t care who rules the state. So they just alternate between the Congress and the Left.  But with oil economies struggling with oil prices hitting new lows in the last 2 years, the remittances have also hit new lows. Irony died a dog’s death when Congress which is in an understanding with the Left in WB is fighting the same Left in Kerala!!! Is there a 3rd option? Here again BJP is an emerging option. But early days yet to give a shot at capturing power.

So under the circumstances, the best choice for the voters in all these state seem to be to press the “NOTA – None of the above” button to really communicate their unhappiness.  However even if the maximum number of votes cast is for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared winner. Just that there will be a clear message in terms of the voter’s resent of the parties in the fray. My guess is that people don’t want to profess helplessness by voting for NOTA. So, they opt for the best of the worst choices and finally get a party to rule them which they actually didn’t want.  Hence the conundrum that whether NOTA really helps!  Remember having NOTA as an option was touted to be one of much needed electoral reform to give the choice to the voter to express her anguish in case she was not happy with the candidates in the fray. But in reality it has turned out to be a lame choice. So I guess we need more than just having a NOTA button on the EVM that will ensure that the verdict reflects our true choices.  Probably a re-election if NOTA gets the maximum votes?? But for now in the election multiple choice question, NOTA is a Naught.

nota cartoon

Postscript: Today is Mother’s Day! That is just for rest of the world. In Tamil Nadu when Amma is in power it’s Mother’s Day 365 days of the year😜😜

Toon Courtesy: Surendra