The astounding rapidity in the turn of events taking place in the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu after the death of the State’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jeyaram does not allow anybody to surmise as to what is going to happen next.
However, now that V.K. Sasikala, the confidante of Jayalalithaa had been sentenced to four years in jail in the verdict of a disproportionate assets case, the situation is likely to calm down soon.
Recent events took place in the State had brought us so many interesting parallels between the opportunistic and highhanded politics in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
And the tolerance and the adaptation of people of the two States to the vulgarity in political developments are also amazing.
Before being convicted by the Supreme Court Sasikala Natarajan incarcerated almost all except for about five Members of Legislative Assembly of Jayalalithaa’s political party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhaham (AIADMK) in a luxury resort in Koovathoor, near Chennai, apparently till the Assembly vote on her election as the new Chief Minister of the State is held.
This might evoke in the minds of many in the politically conscious older generation in Sri Lanka, a strangely similar incarceration of Parliament members in a luxury hotel by a former Sri Lankan President.
That happened in 1987 soon after the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord signed between President J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India as a solution to the Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem.
As a ratification of the Accord by the Parliament, the Sri Lankan Government had to enact the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the Provincial Councils Act providing for the introduction of Provincial Councils in the country.
The opposition in the southern parts of Sri Lanka to the Accord and the two pieces of legislations scheduled to be adopted was such that even President Jayewardene, who wielded a five sixths of Parliamentary majority doubted whether he would be successful in getting them passed in the House.
He might have been alarmed as his Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa had also been expressing views against the Accord.
Hence, he took a bizarre decision to prevent the MPs of his party, the United National Party (UNP) from being influenced by the outsiders as well as the unfurling events. He while having undated resignation letters from the MPs of his party with him, housed all of them in a luxury hotel in Colombo until they were taken to the Parliament in busses next day for the passage of the said Constitutional Amendment.
Sasikala did the same thing. After the death of Jayalalithaa the Acting Chief Minister O. Panneerchelvam continued in the post.
But she craftily persuaded him first to propose her for the powerful General Secretary post of the party, the AIADMK, and then to resign as the Chief Minister.
Despite her being not a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) she was appointed as the leader of the assembly group of the party to be appointed as the Chief Minister, using certain provisions of the Indian Constitution.
Even before being appointed for the post of General Secretary of the AIADMK only because her close friendship with Jayalalithaa, Sasikala was so powerful within the party that even President Maithripala Sirisena had sent his condolences over Jayalalithaa’s death to her, who did not hold any post in the party or in the Tamil Nadu Government then, according to Indian media.
The special emissaries of President Sirisena, former Minister Arumugan Thondaman and Uva provincial Minister Senthil Thondaman met her instead of meeting Chief Minister Panneerchelvam to convey the message.
Also President Sirisena had obliged to a request by Sasikala, an ordinary citizen then to increase the number of Tamil Nadu devotees for the opening of a new church building in Kachchathivu from 20 to 100, the Indian media said.
However, Pannerchelvam woke up from his deep moral slumber two days after his resignation to see that he was going to be a political destitute and dropped a bombshell at the Jayalalithaa “samadi” at the Marina Beach, by stating that he was forced to resign by Sasikala and her men and that he would fight back.
Alarmed by the new development Sasikala took all AIADMK MLAs to the Golden Bay Resort in Koovathoor to be incarcerated and some Tamil Nadu media said that they had been prevented from using any kind of telephones, televisions, newspapers.
The reports also said that habeas corpus petitions had been filed on behalf of five incarcerated MLS, by their relatives.
Then Sasikala requested the State’s Governor Vidayasagar Rao to swear in her as the Chief Minister, but the Governor was noncommittal. In fact, he had to oblige as she had then been appointed as the leader of the ruling party of the State Assembly, despite the modus operandi she used to take control of the party and its MLAs.
The Catch-22 situation faced by the Governor, who had been caught between the law and conscience or relative loyalty reminds us a similar dilemma encountered by a Sri Lankan Provincial Governor in 1994.
Towards the tail end of the 17 year long UNP rule, The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led People’s Alliance (PA) won the Southern Provincial Council in 1994 by one seat and Amarasiri Dodangoda of the PA claimed the Chief Minister post. Caught between the morality and his loyalty to his party, the UNP Governor M.A. Bakeer Marker vanished from the Province for few days creating a crisis situation.
Later Dodangoda was sworn in as the CM.
Sasikala did not use thugs or any other unlawful methods to get the MLAs become subservient, but they just obeyed her like slaves do even when she ordered them to be incarcerated in a hotel.
They did so when they strongly sensed that she was going to be the next Chief Minister, as Panneerchelvam was repeatedly giving in to her.
The parallel to this in Sri Lanka was seen soon after the last Presidential election was held when the SLFP MPs who called Maithripala Sirisena an agent of the West and the LTTE marched into his fold to become Ministers after he was voted into Presidency.
In fact, Paneerchelvam has acted like a coward. He did not need to give in to Sasikala as he did when she was with Jayalalithaa.
But it seems that he had no guts to break the tradition of obeying Jayalalithaa’s most trusted friend, until he found that he was going to be totally sidelined. It was his submissive mindset that prompted Jayalalithaa to assign him to step up for her thrice before when she was disqualified due to legal grounds and when she was admitted to the hospital in last September. In Sri Lanka too certain Presidents appointed relatively submissive personalities as their Prime Ministers as they felt it would be safe.
Reminding SLMC’s founder leader MHM Ashraff’s widow, Ferial fighting for the SLMC leadership, Sasikala who claimed the Chief Minister post had never been a party activist, despite being Jayalalithaa’s shadow.
Tamil Nadu media say that she had never spoken on a public platform. Ferial too had never been a member of the SLMC until Ashraff’s death in 2000, in spite of her being his wife. Both wanted to become the rulers just on the grounds that they were so close to deceased leaders.
Another parallel can be drawn between the controversial politician Subramanian Swami and the small parties in the Joint Opposition in Sri Lanka.
Both want to split the ruling party in their respective States for the survival of their own parties.
In all these instances what we see is that opportunism and greed to power have been the norm of politics.
What is disheartening is the people’s tolerance and attempts to adapt to the situation.