It may not need an opinion poll to sense how so much of Tamil Nadu’s citizenry is angry and sad on hearing the news that Sasikala was all set to become their next chief minister. Nevertheless, Sasikala can become CM and may even complete the four years and three months of the late J. Jayalalithaa’s remaining tenure. It is extremely difficult for many to understand how a lady who hasn’t even been in politics can become Tamil Nadu’s head of government with such ease. It is better to understand why such things happen in India so regularly, violating democratic norms. When Lalu Prasad Yadav had to resign as Bihar CM, he made Rabri, his little-educated wife with no interest or experience in politics, his successor as CM, ignoring all senior party colleagues. Today it is Sasikala’s turn. She was elected by AIADMK Legislature Party members and the party has a clear majority in the Assembly, so irrespective of what the people of TN may wish, she can become CM. There is virtually no recourse available to anyone that could stop Sasikala becoming CM or force her to step down from the CM’s post unless she is disqualified in one or other court cases she has faced for decades.
Even the Centre can’t do anything, such as using Article 356 to dismiss her government, as it will be contrary to the Supreme Court’s guidelines in the S.R. Bommai ruling. The court can not only overturn the dismissal of a state government but also resurrect the Assembly and the state government. The issue before TN is gloomier than simply Sasikala’s ascendency. If she is disqualified, she could make one of her relatives from Mannargudi CM or even pick an MLA of her’s and her family’s choice as a puppet. Even if she is defeated in the byelection she has to contest to enter the Assembly, she could appoint one of the sitting AIADMK MLAs as a dummy CM and rule by proxy. The AIADMK and DMK have perfected the art of winning byelections unscrupulously by scientifically bribing voters with direct cash transfers, and there’s no reason to believe Sasikala will lose the byelection. AIADMK backers, however, fear that if the party under Sasikala seeks votes in any local body or parliamentary election, it may be marginalised in the hustings. Despite this, they still supported Sasiklala’s ascendency to the twin posts of party chief and Tamil Nadu CM.
Why did the AIADMK party in the first instance and subsequently AIADMK legislators remain accomplices to these unpopular and self-sabotaging decisions? For that, we must understand the structure and nature of various parties in India and how they function. India has at least four categories of political parties, with varying degrees of practised democracy, although all of them claim to be fully democratic parties. In the first category, leaders for the top posts either in the party or government are not decided on their blood relationship with their predecessors. The BJP and Communist parties belong to this category. The top brass is invariably elected based on their popularity in the party and among the public. However, there is no bar on scions of leaders from becoming party members and allow them to contest elections and occupy legislative and ministerial positions. The top leader is elected — that will augur well for the party. The question of someone completely unconnected with the party, politics or public service occupying the top post either in the party or government through the back door does not arise in this category of parties.
The second category of parties originated as democratic entities but due to lust for power for the family by top leaders, the parties degenerated into family parties. The Congress, DMK and Akali Dal are examples of this category. However, these parties will openly nurture the family members of the patriarch or matriarch to prepare them to assume the mantle in future. The third category of has originated from inception with the clear intention of running it as a family party. The RJD, SP and TRS belong to this category, and they follow the same philosophy as the second category of parties. The second and third categories of parties have clear succession plans as they are more concerned about complete hold of the parties by their families. There is a fourth category called one-man or one-woman party, where there may not be any succession plans as the party begins and ends at the leader with no questions being asked about anything, including succession or future plans. These parties run only on the charisma of the leader and ideally the party should cease to exist once the leader departs.
The AIADMK, Trinamul Congress and BSP belong to this category. Although a servile attitude prevails among the second, third and fourth categories of parties, it takes a new avatar of “short-term careerism” in the fourth category of political parties. (“Careerism” refers to the derogatory practice of people who do anything to advance their own careers. Careerists don’t mind being dishonest, hypocritical, servile, unscrupulous and unethical and do not bother about the loss of dignity and self-respect in that process). For example, AIADMK ministers, legislators and key office-bearers have already mastered careerism for a very long time now to an extent that careerism became the DNA of AIADMK legislators and key office-bearers. These AIADMK men know very well that in the absence of the charismatic Jayalalithaa, there is no political future for them. However, they also know that they can reap the maximum benefits by being in power in a united manner for the remaining four years and three months. They prefer short-term careerism than a long-standing tenure in politics. It is the structure of the political party that made them completely irrelevant when their charismatic leader departed.
In addition to this, the electoral and governance model we follow also makes the political system murkier. India, in theory, follows the Westminster form of government, where people elect MPs and MLAs who in turn elect the Prime Minister or chief minister after the election. The leader of the legislative party which won a majority becomes the CM of a state or the nation’s PM. But, in practice, to a significant extent, India follows presidential form, whereby parties fight polls announcing overtly or covertly who will be their CM or PM if elected to power and people elect representatives loyal to the leader of their choice. Thus, MLAs and MPs are just a cog in the wheel with no special appeal to voters, unlike the leaders. For all practical purposes, our elections and governance have been moving towards a presidential form. In this backdrop, there should be crystal-clear succession plans if the leader departs from the scene for any reason. For instance, in the United States, which follows the presidential form of government, if the President can no longer serve, the vice-president takes over, followed by high constitutional functionaries and Cabinet members in the designated line of succession for the remaining term. In the absence of such clear protocols for replacement, in non-democratic political parties, anyone can become leader of the government.
In democratic parties, there are some checks and balances. For instance, in a truly democratic party, whose aim is stay for a long time in politics based on ideology, those desiring to reach the top post should exhibit eminence and popularity over other leaders. Only if the party accepts his/her claims for the top post can such a leader reach that position. Given our political milieu of umpteen undemocratic parties, the theoretical Westminster form and practical presidential model has been costing our democracy much more than we think. There are no clear succession plans in the Westminster model as legislators must gather to elect their leader again, unlike the presidential form. Unless otherwise political parties are arm-twisted to become truly democratic and India moves towards a presidential form of government, directly electing CMs and PMs, with the succession plans spelt out in black and white, there is no solution in sight that would prevent the Sasikalas or Rabri Devis becoming CMs.