There is no number two as neither believed in nominating someone.The Tamil Nadu political crisis was somewhat resolved when Governor Vidyasagar Rao allocated the portfolios held by the ailing Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to her trusted deputy O. Pannerselvam. With the persistent unconfirmed rumours spreading like wildfire amid fears that the hospital was not revealing the whole truth about the condition of the Chief Minister, there is indeed a need for a number two.
This brings us to the question whether there is a necessity for the regional chieftains to put in place a chain of command to run the government when they are incapacitated. With the hospitalisation of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa since September 22, this issue has raised its ugly head. In fact, in her kind of personality-driven politics, the leader ranks from one to ten and all others are zero. While the BJP leader Dr Subramanyam Swamy had demanded the imposition of President’s rule in the state, the DMK has demanded the appointment of a Deputy Chief Minister to run the day to day affairs of the state.
Families have dominated politics in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and even Karnataka. But when it comes to Tamil Nadu, from the time of Annadurai to MGR to the present day, the party has always been subservient to its unquestioned supremo.
The current political crisis in Tamil Nadu is the direct result of the AIADMK's complete dependence on the party supremo Jayalalithaa just as it did with MGR in the seventies and eighties. MGR then and Jaya now had carried on the personality cult to its ultimate degree, keeping the party under control by making it almost entirely dependent on them for votes. If MGR was the party then, Jayalalithaa is the party now. There is no number two as neither believed in nominating someone. When MGR was in the hospital in 1984, there was a power struggle in his Cabinet. But the senior minister Nedunchezhiyan emerged as the de facto Chief Minister. Ultimately in his later years, it was the coterie around MGR which ruled as the access to the ailing leader was controlled by it.
Jaya is not the only one who is guarding her fiefdom. There is Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Naveen Patnaik, Aravind Kejriwal, K.Chandrasekhara Rao, N.Chandrababu Naidu, M.Karunanidhi, and Prakash Singh Badal to name a few. Karunanidhi, Badal, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, and Chandrasekhara Rao have practically anointed their sons as the successors. Mayawati has said she has someone in mind as her successor but has not announced his or her name. Mamata has her nephew, but she too has not indicated her successor. Patnaik has not given any thought to it.
Why do the regional chieftains not believe in a chain of command? It is because they want all the focus on themselves and also they don’t trust anyone. Besides, they are in constant fear that someone nominated as number two could one day threaten their position. Telugu Desam supremo N.T. Rama Rao used to say “After me the deluge” as he did not want to name anyone.
Secondly, the regional chieftains want to keep their party completely subservient and colleagues insecure. That is why the snakes and ladders game is being played by them vis a vis their colleagues. For instance, the AIADMK leader Maitreyan was the face of the party in Delhi, but one fine day he was stripped of his position and sidelined. MGR too played this game often.
Thirdly, the regional satraps know that the others have no identity. Jaya has told a senior Congress leader once, “Party! What is the party? I am the party.” So even though they pretend to be democratic and go through the motion of consultation, no one in the party would dare oppose any decision made by the party supremo.
Fourthly, the public, as well as the party, puts up with the style of functioning of the leaders which gives them the strength to be dictatorial. That is why during election time, they can completely change the list of the candidates because the voters cast their votes for the regional chieftain and not for the candidate’s personal clout.
Fifthly, while all these are okay at the party level, the Chief Ministers have to go by the Constitution, and when they are incapacitated, there can be no vacuum. Unfortunately, most of them believe in their immortality. As for Jaya she is a single woman and has no family to stake claims. She might have all the trust in her companion Sasikala, but she has no position in the party or the government to take over.
Sixthly, in the case of Jayalalithaa, late Balasaheb Thackeray, and even Sonia Gandhi the proxy rule worked because the leader was hale and hearty and could control the dummy. The problem arises when the leader is incapacitated. The public, as well as the party, is confused about the capacity of the leader to make difficult decisions from the hospital bed.
Personalities and families dominating regional and even national politics is nothing new across the world, even in deeply entrenched democracies. The beauty of the Indian democracy is that it has survived these 70 years despite the growing personality cult where regional satraps fiercely guard their little fiefdoms. With the fracturing of the polity, the number of the local chieftains is only growing. It will be dangerous if there is no chain of command. Therefore, despite their reluctance, it is important that they define the hierarchy.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)