Opinion Op Ed 11 Feb 2017 Shobhaa’s Take ...
Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com

Shobhaa’s Take: Beats all melodramas

Published Feb 11, 2017, 1:08 am IST
Updated Feb 11, 2017, 6:56 am IST
Sasikala clearly holds the keys to Amma’s tijori.
AIADMK General Secretary V K Sasikala flashes victory sign after attending the party MLAs' meeting in Chennai. (Photo: PTI)
 AIADMK General Secretary V K Sasikala flashes victory sign after attending the party MLAs' meeting in Chennai. (Photo: PTI)

Even for someone like myself, who absolutely loves melodrama, I find I am squirming reading all the dirty doings of a cast of characters even the most talented fiction writer would find hard to conjure up. There is muck everywhere! The narrative of the state of Tamil Nadu shifts from murky to more murky... bordering on macabre. At the epicentre of this political quake is a mysterious lady-in-green called Sasikala. The thing about that colourful and complex state is that if you don’t belong to it, you don’t get it. Try as I might, I have never been able to understand the power and charisma of its mighty political leaders, most of whom hide behind dark glasses by day and night. Some have genuine ophthalmic conditions, I am told. So, we can exclude them. But the rest? So many men can’t possibly be suffering from conjunctivitis round the year? So, what’s with those shades and sunnies? Are they a power statement, a fashion statement or just a statement-statement? Do those men not want to look the world in the eye?

Why don’t women in the party resort to similar eye wear? It’s impossible to trust a neta if you are unable to make eye contact. Most of them are shifty-eyed to start with, in any case. Then... those wrap-around shades! Sasikala looks shifty-eyed, if one can look into those deep-set eyes of hers. The expression remains inscrutable. The smile, fixed. The voice was finally heard when the situation reached boiling point. At the time of writing, she had technically “kidnapped” 129 MLAs and herded them into “safe” farmhouses and hotels outside Chennai, and provided them with jet skis to better enjoy the beach. I hope she also supplied appropriate swimwear. Imagine a sea of wet mundus! She is not the first politician to adopt this rather drastic strategy. Most MLAs know this is their best chance to extract favours in the form of money, gold, gifts, land, contracts... you know it. What better than to be locked up in a place where such negotiations can be conducted without too many prying eyes? Assuming, Sasikala wins the numbers game and bharat natyams her way to the CM’s chair, there will still be countless unanswered questions left hanging in the air. The corruption cases, for one. She has enough powerful and outspoken critics like superstar Kamal Haasan, lined up against her. They are quick to clarify that their stated anti-Sasikala stance does not automatically make them pro-Panneerselvam.

 

It just means they are appalled by the situation and want democracy restored. That seems like a pretty tall order, given that there wasn’t much democracy on parade during J. Jayalalithaa’s time either. She was a borderline despot, who knew how to play the most damaging political games. Known to be autocratic, ruthless and vindictive, it’s a wonder her millions of blind followers refused to see through her Machiavellian ambitions. That’s fine. That’s also democracy. She was a beloved and admired leader of a state that has a strange fascination for mega movie stars. Nobody can question Amma’s education or high IQ. But people have the right to question her ethics and politics that saw the oppression of those who opposed her. Now there is talk that she could have been done in. In other words — her hospitalisation and subsequent death may not have been due to natural causes. Whispers suggest she was “pushed”. Pushed by whom? She shared her extravagant life and ridiculously lavish living space with Sasikala and her family (who are refusing to move out of the mansion). Lover’s tiff? We’ll never know.

 

But once she was admitted to hospital, we have the absolute right to get to the truth. In what condition was Amma brought in? Was she bruised? Had fractures? Was she conscious? Did she regain consciousness at any stage during the 34 days she was struggling for her life? The nurses claim she spoke to them and wanted to go home. Ask the nurses! The doctors made a***s of themselves earlier this week, trying a bit too hard to provide medical details that weren’t very convincing. Why was the pantomime kept up for such a long time? Who signed papers while she was in the ICU? There were daily bulletins being issued about her conducting Cabinet meetings from what was her deathbed. Who was impersonating her? Are the signatures forgeries? The hospital is obliged to make every single medical report public before someone files charges. Every state has its share of intrigue and skullduggery. But even by those dodgy standards, what’s happening in Tamil Nadu is shocking. Sasikala clearly holds the keys to Amma’s tijori. The person (Sasikala) who has been dismissed (most obnoxiously!) as a “charwoman” by rivals is sitting on enormous wealth.

 

Nobody is asking how and when it was amassed. In India, these sort of questions are considered “irrelevant”. Citizens take it for granted that all politicians are corrupt. Some even sympathise with their lot saying, “They need money to fight elections and buy votes... how else can they stay in power?” How else, indeed! So... there we have it. A Tamilian melodrama to beat all melodramas. With a man oddly named Stalin, smirking from the sidelines. Nothing appears too exaggerated or too ludicrous. Not even Mr Panneerselvam arriving at midnight (with a media entourage, of course), to “meditate” at Amma’s memorial and seek her blessings. He has asked the governor for five days to get the numbers to form the government. Meanwhile, Sasikala, the former videographer with no known formal education, is biding her time. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the hotels and farmhouses where the captured MLAs are chilling. Was Scotch served? Or just payasam? Get ‘em drunk. Sweeten their decision. Buy them a loyalty card worth crores. And form the next government. Aiyyyyo! Is that what MGR’s and Amma’s legacy been reduced to? Devaa! Devaa!

 

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