When Inner-Party Flaws Fail the People
The drama in Tamil Nadu has lessons for us all
If a majority of AIADMK legislators choose V K Sasikala as their leader, there is no legal barrier to this former shadow of J Jayalalithaa stepping into her late leader’s chief ministerial shoes. If that still leaves a bad taste in the mouth not just for some aggrieved party leaders but also for a large section of Tamil voters, blame the state’s cult of personality politics. Both the Dravidian parties have a functional organisational structure, functional committees at different levels and full-time cadre. Yet, when it comes to crucial matters, the leader alone takes all the decisions. In the last assembly elections, it is widely believed that Sasikala helped an ailing Jayalalithaa choose the party’s candidates. It is not surprising, therefore, that most MLAs readily support the person who offered them patronage for chief minister.
Yet, their support will not automatically turn into support from the party cadre and the people who voted for Jayalalithaa. But if their disaffection falls short of active revolt, it can impinge on Sasikala’s chief ministership only four years later, at the next assembly elections, four years away. By that time, she can hope to have played the game of patronage and penalties to dissolve opposition from within. This storyline hinges on the formal structure and procedure in place for choosing the chief minister and for the chief minister to stay in office. But politics does not go by form alone. If the MLAs sense that their survival in politics, leave alone re-election, is at stake, they would be more than happy to have a change of heart. That calls for the AIADMK party to come alive as an organism of functional democracy and review its organisational functioning. Can someone be elevated as the party’s new general secretary, a position held, first, by founder M G Ramachandran and then, by Jayalalithaa, without consulting the wishes and preferences of the party rank and file?
Sasikala’s rise from the penumbra of Tamil Nadu’s politics to the shining centre of its galaxy illuminates the link between parties’ internal democracy or its deficit and the quality of the polity in general.