Tamil Nadu has a rich tradition of music and has given India some of its towering musicians in carnatic, folk and film music. Tyagaraja, MS Viswanathan, MS Subbulakshmi, Illayaraja, AR Rahman, SP Balasubramanyam, the list goes on. But now giving them a good run for their money are legislators from the ruling AIADMK.
And, no, they’re not straining their vocal cords at a recording studio at Kodambakkam, the nerve centre of Tamil cinema, nor at the Music Academy in Egmore, but, on the floor of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, at Fort St George, Chennai.
The first session of the J Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government, which came back to power after the elections this summer, concluded last Friday, and the conduct of the ruling MLAs was disappointing.
It would be expecting too much of AIADMK MLAs to critically analyse the schemes and policies of the government and talk about the ways to improve them. Such cerebral exercises are left to the Puratchi Thalaivi, which means revolutionary leader, as Jayalalithaa is described by the faithful.
The praise of Jayalalithaa is a monomania that has infected the AIADMK for far too long now. This is not to say that political hyperbole is new to the state. The influence of films and the sycophancy associated with it has been seen in the past. But now, especially after Jayalalithaa returned to power overcoming great odds, political hagiographies by party MLAs are quite routine.
The first session of the new Assembly saw MLAs, some of them even ministers, falling over each other to belt out numbers from old Tamil films to praise the “visionary” leader. If one day it was health minister C Vijaya Baskar comparing Jayalaithaa to “god”, another day it was S Karunaas, actor-turned-politician, who “thanked the goddess” and said he’s found “the mother” in her.
AIADMK MLA Rathisabapathy praised MGR, former chief minister and founder of the party, and Jayalaithaa for the visionary lines about Tamil Nadu’s development in the songs in their movies. To make things more absurd, the MLA was challenged to a debate by Opposition leader MK Stalin on the subject.
All this would have been funny if it was not happening in the Assembly, while the House is in session.
The tamasha did not stop within the state; recently, while the Rajya Sabha was intensely debating the unrest in Kashmir, AIADMK MP A Navaneethakrishnan decided to sing a song from an MGR film describing the beauty of Kashmir.
These new-age song birds, who cut sorry figures as representatives of the people, should be ashamed of the way they have reduced what many consider the temple of democracy into the theatre of the absurd.
Different media houses have been reporting on this trend of sorts, with one even calling the songs “item numbers” — referring to the practice of adding songs with catchy lyrics and dance sequences that usually are irrelevant to the story told in a film.
It is highly unlikely that the drafters of our Constitution would have envisaged such misuse and mockery of democracy — otherwise they would have put in a provision to stop these musical outburst.
That such bombastic “item numbers” are permitted on the floor of the House shows the inefficiency of the Chair, and, more importantly, shows how an elected government is changing into an autocracy where everything is about one leader. In such a system, all work done by the government is attributed to that leader, welfare schemes are tagged as the benevolence of that leader, and all praise goes to that leader.
The people of Tamil Nadu deserve leaders who do more than just song and dance numbers.