It’s not always that the one who’s born with a silver spoon in his mouth goes on to become king. Succession in politics has been both good and bad. And in many cases, the struggle to claim that success — which some consider to be their birthright — still continues. Examples are plenty, but with the death of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J. Jayalalithaa, the issue of succession is back on the table. Jayalalithaa herself snatched the success from someone else’s hand — at least that is what many claim. If articles dated 1988 are to be believed, a major part of the then AIADMK, believed that Janaki Ramachandran, the wife of party founder M.G. Ramachandran, was the rightful claimant of the post. And it’s no wonder it was Janaki who sat on the coveted chief minister’s seat after the death of MGR.
However, the joy was short-lived as within 24 days she lost the seat thanks to the Rajiv Gandhi government dethroning her using the powers lying with the central government. She contested elections, but the AIADMK was divided into two factions, with the other one headed by Jayalalithaa. However, Janaki’s faction managed to win only two seats. Janaki, the woman who was alleged by Jayalalithaa’s supporters to have been running the government from behind the curtain when MGR was unwell, decided to quit politics.
Andhra Pradesh presents another case study. Lakshmi Parvathi, widow of N.T. Rama Rao, was pegged by many reports to be leading the campaign in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls. A report in a well-read magazine had pegged Parvathi as a winner and an even better orator than Chandrababu Naidu. Even the Congress had then considered Parvathi to be a bigger opponent. However, the results were different, as she couldn’t win a single seat. Though many people wrote her political obituary, Parvathi managed to remain in the news as one of the bitter rivals of Naidu. In the lead up to the 1996 polls, Parvathi was quoted in an article as saying she would continue to remain the chief minister for 20 years like Jyoti Basu in West Bengal.
In Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray was spoken of as a replica of his uncle Bal Thackeray, the founder of Shiv Sena. Everyone saw him as the heir of the Sena — he had everything on his side, from Bal Thackeray’s style of talking to his to gift for sketching. However, Bal Thackeray picked his own son, Uddhav, as his heir, which forced Raj to float his own party. When Raj floated his party in March 2006, Shivaji Park was packed; it was impossible to set foot in the ground, as the crowd was humongous. His oratory, which could easily be mistaken for his uncle’s, drew the masses. However, the magic started fading, as in the 2007 BMC polls, Raj’s party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), didn’t manage to make much of an impact and many cast doubts on his political future. But within a year he, like his uncle, used the anti-north Indian card to become famous. By the 2009 Assembly polls, Raj managed to get 13 MLAs elected and in the the 2012 BMC polls the MNS got more than 25 corporators.
However, Raj lost popularity at the same speed he gained it. People still thronged his rallies but the swelling crowds didn’t materialise into votes. In the 2014 assembly polls all his trusted lieutenants lost the elections and only one won, and he was an import from Shiv Sena at that. Raj still resorts to antics like threatening film producers to remain in the news, but the leader’s following has been limited to a very small voter base.
The other example from Maharashtra is Supriya Sule, who has in-house competition from her cousin Ajit Pawar, who is a stronger force with whom the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders like to reckon with, despite Sule being the daughter of party founder Sharad Pawar. Though like Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, Ms Sule also cannot be completely written off, as both have won elections and do possess a mass base.
On the other hand, one of the biggest losers could be Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who succeeded Jyoti Basu, the longest serving chief minister in history. However, in the immediate election after Basu’s death the Communists lost their bastion in West Bengal, and haven’t been able to reclaim it ever since. Many a time, just a surname or connection isn’t enough; the surname might get you to the top, but to remain there, one has to know all the tricks and sometimes even buy new tricks from the market.
Jose George, former head of department, Politics, Mumbai University, claims the problem with most people who failed despite having the surname and legacy of the supreme leader is that they came up only after the leader’s demise. “Janaki Ramachandran wasn’t seen much while Jayalalithaa was already an MP. So the latter managed to pull it off. These politicians, be it Lakshmi Parvathi or Buddhadeb, came into prominence only after their leader’s death. Also just having the surname isn’t sufficient. What one needs is charisma to take forward the legacy,” said Mr George. The academic suggests that Sasikala won’t have much trouble taking forward Amma’s legacy, because she has been seen with Jaya for almost two decades now.