Why so vicious? Sasikala as CM is a natural outcome of the growing decay in Dravidian politics

The Tamil Nadu chief minister-designate is not the first person with few qualifications to assume a high office – and won't be the last.

VK Sasikala’s ascent to the chief ministership of Tamil Nadu has added a strong Tamil flavour to the confused dirge for democracy we have been subjected to over the last few years, on account of events national and international.

When the electoral coin-toss – or indeed, subsequent political machinations as with Sasikala, a close aide of the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa – does not result in one set’s favour, excoriations of social decay and extant democratic systems routinely follow.

Why is the rise of Chinamma, as the chief minister-designate is known, so singularly egregious that champions of democracy have developed digestive disorders?

Not the only one

There have been holders of public office with fewer years of formal education than Saskilala, of whose qualifications little is known. She is also is not the first, and one can fairly assume, will not be the last unelected occupant of a ministerial chair. The fact that she is the second defendant in the same graft cases where four-term chief minister, Jayalithaa, was the first makes Sasikala’s credentials as crooked, or compelling as her friend’s, who was widely popular as a leader, to the extent of being deified.

In India, it has not been uncommon for neophytes – those with absolutely no legislative or public life experience – to overnight find themselves at the top of the executive tree. The outcome has not uniformly been catastrophic. If behind-the-scenes proximity to puissant men and women of politics (the equivalent of political and administrative apprenticeship by observation) is a yardstick, Sasikala has had a more than 30-year association with Jayalalithaa the politician.

When Sonia Gandhi took over as the Congress president in 1998 and in effect became the leader of the Opposition, she had no political experience, but had been a Nehru-Gandhi bahu for 30 years.

Providential parentage is often the ultimate determinant of political pedigree. Sasikala has obvious shortcomings in that department.

Sasikala’s transformation in public eyes from a shadowy usurper of Jaylalithaa’s lucre and political legacy to an ogress is in large measure due to her family’s seemingly insatiable appetite for plunder.

It cannot be mere coincidence that the Mannargudi Mafia, as her relatives are called, prospered and became owners of nearly anything their eyes surveyed and liked during Jayalalithaa’s rule. Amma, as the late chief minister was known, herself faced similar criticism not just from rival DMK but also from second-rung leaders of her own party for most of the 1980s, over her relationship with MG Ramachandran or MGR, the founder of the AIADMK who, like her, was a film star-turned politician.

Rigor mortis

The decision of stockbrokers and analysts to buy or sell a company factors in its future prospects and a host of intelligently guessable business upsides and downsides.

When the people of Tamil Nadu offered a “buy” rating on Jayalalithaa in 2016, it is reasonable to venture that they did so mindful of the succession risk. The poor state of Amma’s health, especially in the second half of her third term in office, was no secret. When she resumed office after the Karnataka High Court acquitted her in a disproportionate assets case in May 2015, even the national anthem at her swearing in ceremony was pared down to 20 seconds instead of the full 52-second version, reportedly due to her inability to stand too long. She then started visiting her state secretariat office twice a week, and that too only for an hour or two.

But voters preferred the rule of partially fit chief minister and the ever-growing influence (baleful or not) of Sasikala in matters of governance over Karunanidhi’s DMK.

The unintended consequences and what appear to be perverted outcomes of this decision are neither an indication of democracy’s diminishing returns nor a mass brain fade. It is rather a sign of a polity that has become fattened to the point of unresponsiveness.

British journalist and Conservative commentator Peter Hitchens, describing in 2005 how the country’s politics lost its way, wrote that the Labour and the Tories were “like a pair of corpses, stiff with rigor mortis, propping each other up”. According to Hitchens, they no longer represented the true divisions in British society, rendering them incapable of genuinely adversarial politics of principles and of going beyond the superficiality of personality politics. When that happens, perverted outcomes of the Sasikala variety will become commonplace.

Mummies and Ammas

India’s national politics may very soon resemble the Hitchensian double act of corpses, but several of our states are already there. As with many things, Tamil Nadu leads the way here.

The two principal Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK – are metaphorically and literally cut from the same cloth. Over the last two decades, it would be impossible to tell them apart.

The Dravidian movement, founded by EV Ramaswamy or Periyar and its political forebear, the Justice Party, strongly represented the social divisions of their time. Initially a Congressman, Periyar broke away from the party in 1925, disillusioned by its domination of Brahmins and what he saw as Congress’ inability to match his idea of social justice.

In his seminal book Anna: The Life and Times of Annadurai, R Kannan said about the genesis of the Dravidian movement:

“In 1935 Periyar associated himself closely with the Justice Party, inspired by its progressive legislation on communal representation, temple entry and degrading the Devadasi system… His construct of a homogeneous Dravida nation proved a non-starter with the project’s bias in favour of the Tamils. Aided by his disciple Anna [CN Annadurai], Periyar would nonetheless succeed in transforming the moribund Justice Party into a vibrant Dravida Kazhagam in 1944.”

While Anna broke from Dravada Kazhagam to form the DMK in 1949, MGR broke away from the DMK in 1972, three years after mentor Anna’s death, forming a new party in his name with claims of being his true political and ideological legatee.

What differentiated the Dravida mothership DMK and the AIADMK was MGR’s personality cult, built on his superstardom and his somewhat pioneering politics of welfarism.

Reacting to the news of Sasikala’s anointment, historian Ramachandra Guha in a tweet lamented the descent (a decline in the stature of Dravidian movement standard bearers, presumably) from Periyar to Sasikala.

His lament, is perhaps two or even four decades too late. The Dravidian movement itself has outlived its social utility. The response of the Dravidian parties to the new socio-economic realities enabled by their own distant founders has been a competitive politics of freebies and self-aggrandisement.

The collision of mummies can only produce Ammas and Chinammas. But as a wise Persian king once said, this too shall pass.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

When building your home, it is important to use strong and durable materials. A value-added premium product with high compressive strength, Birla Gold cement is used to make tough, impermeable concrete that sets quickly, lasts long and minimises cracking. Its durability will ensure that your dream home always looks new and the steel structure inside remains protected. Birla Gold offers variants that are optimised for different needs. The unique hydraulic binding properties of the Birla Gold Premium cement variant prevent seepage, making it resistant to even corrosive water, especially important for houses in coastal cities. The Birla Gold Royal cement variant provides very high strength and is perfect for the foundation. As the video below says, with the different varieties of cement that Birla Gold offers, you can build the home of your dreams.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Birla Gold Premium Cement and not by the Scroll editorial team.