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How secure is our democracy under the leadership of insecure leaders?

columns Updated: Oct 16, 2016 22:51 IST
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Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa has been in hospital since September 22, 2016. O Paneerselvam has been given all the responsibilities of a chief minister, but he hasn’t been given the formal designation.(AFP file photo)

Questions have always been asked about the moral standards of our leaders. But are they victims of an insecurity complex? The mysterious illness of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayaraman Jayalalithaa has put the spotlight on present-day politicians in India.

May god grant good health to Jayalalithaa and help her return to the helm of the government. Only five months ago, the people of this important Indian state restored their faith in her leadership for the sixth time during the assembly elections. Even before she could begin implementing her poll promises, she was gripped by illness. This has paralysed the state administration. Had Jayalalithaa formed a second line of command, then thousands of people would not have felt neglected. Why didn’t Jayalalithaa do so? To find an answer we may have to remove some layers of dust from the pages of history.

Read: Medical bulletins on Jayalalithaa’s health hide more than they reveal

The controversy that erupted after the passing away of MG Ramachandran is still fresh in the minds of political analysts. Not only was Ramachandran a movie star, he also gave a new direction to the ‘Dravidian’ movement. Jayalalithaa was his constant companion in the world of movies and politics. That is why she considered herself a natural heir to Vadiyar’s legacy. MGR’s wife VN Janaki challenged her, but Jayalalithaa was up to the challenge and Janaki was deposed.

Read: The lack of transparency about Jayalalithaa’s health is worrying

If Vadiyar, or teacher, had not given so much importance to Amma in the party, his family would not have had to see such days. That’s why Jayalalithaa didn’t allow a number two to emerge in the party or government, in any capacity. If she became suspicious about anybody, the person was thrown out. That’s why when she was imprisoned for the first time in 2001 and O Panneerselvam’s name was announced as her replacement, people in north India were surprised. Upon investigation it was revealed that Panneerselvam was Amma’s trusted lieutenant. His world began and ended with Amma.

Read: Jayalalithaa: A timeline of a movie star-turned-politician

The story was repeated In 2014, when Jayalalithaa was imprisoned again. This time round, Panneerselvam has been given all the responsibilities of a chief minister, but he hasn’t been given the formal designation. Jayalalithaa will continue to be chief minister in absentia. By when will she recover? What exactly is her ailment? Whatever the party spokespersons say on this is raising newer questions.

The police have registered cases against a number of people for spreading rumours. Some people are behind bars but the tsunami of rumours refuses to abate.

Jayalalithaa isn’t the only such politician.

Let us begin with Odisha. Its chief minister Naveen Patnaik has regained power for the fourth time with a landslide majority. Even in his party there is no number two. Like Jayalalithaa, Naveen also encourages the politics of no alternative. With clever politics, not only has he made Opposition parties redundant, but he has also stifled every emerging voice in his party. On October 16, Patnaik turned 70. He should ideally announce his political successor. But will he?

Read: Mamata as Durga earns all-round disapproval

The picture is not very different in neighbouring West Bengal. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee neither been a silver screen idol like Jayalalithaa, nor was her father the chief minister like Naveen. She underwent many forms of oppression in order to end the more than three-decade-old Left Front rule. A big section of the state’s population addresses her as Didi out of respect. Mamata has not shared power with anybody in her party at the top rung. Her nephew Abhishek Banerjee heads the youth wing of the Trinamool Congress and this time had the honour of reaching the Lok Sabha. Will he take over Mamata’s legacy? Nobody appears to have a clue.

The situation appears to be similar in the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mayawati had to struggle even more than Mamata. She became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times while taking on the infamous caste system. She is one of the leading contenders for power in the next assembly elections. Kanshi Ram had anointed her as his heir well in time. Mayawati herself has made a public statement that she has decided on who will take over her political mantle. Who can this be?

Read: It is raining sops in Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha

The script is almost identical with Sikkim’s Pawan Kumar Chamling. He has been chief minister of the state since 1994. If all goes well, in another two years, he’ll become the longest-serving chief minister in India. Rising from the village panchayat level to dominating state politics, Chamling, the father of eight children, has neither named a family member, nor anybody else from the party as his successor.

These five states send 183 members to the 543-member-strong Lok Sabha. They have a 25% contribution to the nation’s GDP. These statistics reflect how sensitive the situation is. Shouldn’t those who represent the hopes of millions of citizens make their succession plans public? Shouldn’t politicians also declare the status of their health along with party manifestos? How can an unhealthy and politically insecure leader contribute to the nurturing of a healthy democracy? Working professionals are asked to retire between 58 years and 60 years of age. It is assumed that they begin to falter by this age. There is no such rule for politicians.

How secure is the world’s largest democracy under the leadership of politicians suffering from such insecurity complexes?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan