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Inflection point in Tamil politics 

By Valson Thampu

On a superficial reading, the recent developments in Tamil Nadu could seem to have put an enduring stamp of patency on Amma-Principle in politics. In point of fact, the case could well be the contrary.

History has a sense of humor. History laughs by turning immediate advantages into irremediable weaknesses.

The logic to lead this progressive state out of its regressive political fixation could well be emerging – if historical patterns hold – from within the same framework of political infantilism. This parallels the logic of nature as well. After all, it is out of the infant that the adult emerges.

Chinnamma succeeding Amma, the late J Jayalalithaa, exclusively on the pretext of association and loyalty, may seem to be an irrevocable consolidation of the “Amma” principle. But what ‘seems’ is not what works.

V K Sasikala has, admittedly ascended the throne on Amma’s wings. But it didn’t take her any time to wield the broom of change snug under her sleeves. Jaya has been swept off the scene. Those who want to remember their Amma better go to her Samadhi in Marina. She has been swiftly contained and confined. Chinnamma has laid Amma to rest.

The enthronement of Dinakaran, who was an eyesore to Amma, is meant to be the last nail on Amma’s coffin. In a masterstroke of historical irony, Chinnamma prostrated herself at Amma’s Samadhi before installing this hated wheeler-dealer de facto in Amma’s seat. It is like your touching someone’s feet as a prelude to tripping him by his legs. Make sure that the irony of it does not go unnoticed. Chinnamma used the ‘family’ principle to exorcise AIADMK of the ‘Amma’ principle, which is the family principle par excellence.

Sasikala knew that the legislators would fall in line; for she acted wholly according to the parivar (nee, Amma) logic. It was, after all, only through association with Amma that she became Chinnamma. But, blood is the closest association. It is the association that visits and courses through one’s heart with rhythmic regularity.

If Sasikala could leapfrog into the seat of ultimate authority through domestic association alone, what’s wrong about her nephew doing one better, on the strength of blood kinship? Shouldn’t blood be thicker than water?

So far so good. But a different game could begin, sooner than later. The contradictions immanent in this pattern will begin to play out. In invoking the ‘kith-and-kin’ principle, Sasikala incurred a summary violation of the Amma principle, which is, in this instance, the sole fountainhead of her own authority.

Sadly for Amma, she was buried; not cremated. So, she could be literally turning in her grave with the elevation of Dinakaran. It is especially significant that this blatant sacrilege does not bother the hardcore “Amma loyalists.” May well be that, when seen through the iron spectacles of power, now Chinnamma is Amma. So, the hated Dinakaran now stands reinvented as the legitimate heir apparent.

Be that as it may, it signals a tectonic shift in feeling, if not doing, Tamil politics. This may be opaque to the legislators, but is not so to party cadres and well-wishers.

This is the sole proverbial straw that Pannerselvam is left with. He could realize, if he perseveres enough, that this is a great deal more than a straw in the wind.

But will he?

That’s the question that custodians of the “Amma” principle have to reckon. Contrary to what most people now think, the fulcrum of Tamil politics could be neither Chinnamma nor Palaniswamy. It could still be OPS (O. Panneerselvam).

Provided. . . OPS learns.

He is the first and foremost wreck on the Amma principle. By demeaning himself as a tool for keeping the seat warmed, OPS denigrated himself continually. This was the most unedifying public display of human instrumentality. Sadly OPS refused to learn that he who allows himself to be used as a tool, will be discarded like all tools are. Tools, unlike, diamonds, are not forever.

This is the pathos of being OPS. The moment he lost Amma’s apron, he found another one for himself: that of the BJP! It was this that undid him. He couldn’t have hurt his cause worse than this. History was calling him to emerge from a shadow. He did. But, in walking out of one shadow, he sought shelter in another. He refused to grow and stand on his own feet. Such people do not command respect or trust.

The game is still not over for OPS. He is nearly alone today; but does not have to be so, forever. He is left with the last option. He must let go, decisively and unambiguously, on his ventriloquists in Delhi and strike out on his own. There is something winsome about him, which none else in AIADMK has. People love him. He can build a base for himself; not derived or inherited, but self-created. OPS has, in other words, the opportunity, for one last time, to grow.

OPS could be a pioneer, if he does. Look at the second run leadership in the two wings of the Dravidian parties- DMK and AIADMK. Between the leader and the rest there is a gulf that cannot be bridged. It is the underdevelopment and confirmed insignificance of the followers that perpetuates the dynastic principle.

Valson Thampu

We have not seen the end of anything yet. AIADMK will go through a period of turmoil and upheaval. It is a logical imperative. It is not turmoil that matters. What matters is if this turbulence will be turned into the birth-pangs of a more mature and democratic vision for Tamil politics.

The admixture of dynasty and democracy is archaic and regressive. The people of Tamil Nadu deserve a better fare. If their leaders do not give it to them, they could begin to help themselves. Remember the Jallikattu fervor? That could well be no more than a tame trailer vis-à-vis what is shaping up in the womb of time.

(Valson Thampu is a former principal of St Stephen’s College, Delhi)

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