Thursday, October 06, 2016

After Amma, Who?

The question, `After Jayalalithaa, Who?', may sound premature to the followers of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J.Jayalalithaa, but it can no longer be avoided, especially when she is confined to a hospital bed, with access to her restricted to a select few.  

The issue of political succession is a grey area in our Constitution, as there is no provision which provides for an automatic succession to the office of the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister, in situations when the incumbent is incapable of taking decisions herself, because of prolonged illness.   

This blog has dealt with this question earlier in 2009 when the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh's temporary illness, led to such concerns.  

The resulting vacuum could paralyse governance, bringing the administration to a grinding halt. The question of proxies close to her taking key decisions on her behalf, without her knowledge, cannot also be ruled out.

The secrecy surrounding her illness, therefore, is a matter of concern, as shown by the Madras High Court entertaining a PIL on the issue. Today, the high court is likely to hear the PIL seeking directions to authorities to file a status report on her health condition, and whether she is in a fit condition to take decisions on governance.  

Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, for fever and dehydration on  September 22, and there is an intense cloud over her current health condition, with authorities unwilling to share specific information.  

Jayalalithaa, according to Vaasanthi, her latest biographer, has never encouraged a second-in-line as her political heir because she thinks it would be suicidal.  There is no one in sight anyway; and she does not know what would happen to her party after her, she says.

Well, that is what happens to all personality-centered political parties, and the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, which she leads, is no exception to this phenomenon.

But Vaasanthi’s biography suggests that her failure to encourage a second-in-line as her political heir, could be attributed to her own personality, characterised by bouts of insecurity and turmoil in her personal life.

Charismatic leaders have their ups and downs in politics. However, as their lives are inevitably tied to the governance of the states, especially when they find themselves exercising Constitutional responsibilities, it leads to concern and anxiety among the people who adorn her.

As Vaasanthi shows in this tiny book with just 173 pages, [AMMA: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen By Vaasanthi, Juggernaut, 2016, Rs.299], Jayalalithaa’s rise in politics has been fascinating. She comes out as an ordinary girl, with professional aspirations in the film world, and with a vacuum in personal life, is inevitably drawn into public life by her mentor, MGR, who the author shows, as not having sufficiently understood her potential for politics and public service.

Being a single woman in a male-dominated world, she had everything going against her.  She suffered the worst ignominy which any politician could imagine, by becoming the first chief minister in office, to ever go to jail, last year, when a trial court in Karnataka found her guilty in the D.A. case against her, and imposed a sentence of imprisonment on her. But she took all these in her stride, and led her party to victory in the subsequently-held assembly elections in the  State. The Karnataka high court later acquitted her in the case, which has been appealed against by the  State of Karnataka in the Apex Court.

True, everything against her cannot be attributed to her gender, and the disadvantage resulting from it; but when her biographers maintain a distance from contemporary perceptions of her public life, may find it a challenge to judge it in a gender-neutral sense.

This is her fourth innings as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.  Vaasanthi’s book helps the reader to understand the insecurities, indignities, and the uncertainties which she suffered in her struggle against her rivals in politics, and how she was determined to overcome them and turn her adversities into political advantages.  

Her relationship with her political mentor, and former chief minister, MGR - who was also her guru in the film world - is something which needs to be told with compassion and sensitivity, keeping her gender in mind. The author achieves this remarkably well.

The book is sketchy in its treatment of her court battles.  That, of course, would require a separate book.

As she battles her enigmatic sickness in Chennai, there is intense speculation about what the Supreme Court’s judgment will be in the appeals filed by the State of Karnataka against her acquittal by the Karnataka high court in the disproportionate assets cases against her.   The judgment in the case, heard by justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and  Amitava Roy, was reserved during the summer vacation, on June 7.

It is now four months after the hearings in the case were concluded in the  Court, and it is not clear whether the Judges would be inclined to deliver their verdict/s especially at a time when lack of correct information about her health condition has led to all sorts of rumours and concerns in the state.   

Update: The PIL seeking the real health status of the Chief Minister, has been dismissed by the Madras High Court today.
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