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Hijacking Democracy

A democracy like ours is still very young by the standards of some of the finest ones of the world listed as constitutional monarchies merely because powerless monarchs are still in existence. The world rates countries like Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain as some of the front-ranking democracies regardless of what they may be called. By contrast, India may keep making futile attempts to be regarded as an outstanding democracy merely because it happens to be the largest democracy in the world. However, the fact that the true democratic ethos is alien to the Indian temperament should be quite evident from the political scenario of Tamil Nadu during the last few weeks. What we have in Tamil Nadu today is the people’s will being hijacked by the will of an individual who has been convicted by the Supreme Court for criminal and corrupt activity committed almost two decades ago. However, it is this individual who still calls the shots in Tamil Nadu.

It is remarkable that a much delayed Supreme Court verdict on earlier criminal activities of V.K. Sasikala should have had such a poor impact on her supporters who are lawmakers. The delayed Supreme Court verdict establishes Sasikala and Jayalalithaa as corrupt and criminal entities who were somehow acquitted by a single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court by setting aside the verdict of the trial court. The Supreme Court has restored the verdict of the trial court. And even though the sentence against Jayalalithaa is abated by her death, the Supreme Court verdict against Sasikala entails a prison term of three-and-a-half years, a fine of Rs 10 crore and an injunction against her contesting any election for a period of ten years. The Supreme Court order to Sasikala to surrender immediately took her to a Bengaluru jail on Wednesday. Her incarceration was without the benefits that a VIP might have expected even though an appeal had been made for special privileges.

This expectation of VIP status was largely something stoked by her party supporters rather than what she was really entitled to. As we said earlier in this column, there was nothing apart from her closeness to the late Jayalalithaa that could have given her any illusions of greatness. Her education was limited to middle school, and she had none of the political acumen that distinguished Jayalalithaa. This closeness to Jayalalithaa did not save her from expulsion from the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa herself in December 2011 along with many of her relatives. She was taken back three months later; but her relatives were not. What comes as a major surprise to most law-abiding citizens is that the Supreme Court verdict did nothing at all to the support Sasikala had among the AIADMK MLAs of Tamil Nadu. Since lawmakers are expected to set an example to others by their high respect for the law of the land, it was fair to expect that after the Supreme Court verdict of Tuesday, there would be a sharp decline in the support that she had from the AIADMK MLAs of Tamil Nadu. It was expected that lawmakers would stay on the side of the law, refusing to support someone who had been convicted by the apex court and imprisoned for criminal and corrupt activity. But nothing of the sort seems to have happened. Her proxy, her nominee, E.K.Palaniswamy has been sworn in as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and he faces his trial of strength in the Assembly today. There is hardly any reason to doubt that he will pass the trial with a clear majority. As if this was not enough, Sasikala even appointed her nephew, T.T.V. Dinakaran as deputy general secretary of the AIADMK after readmitting him into the party along with another nephew, S.Venkatesh. This could well mean that the de facto Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu would be ruling by remote control from her prison cell in Bengaluru and would also continue to suspend or evict anyone from the AIADMK according to her whims. People are aware of the privileges of lawmakers and sometimes even afraid of them. This is perhaps the first time they are witnessing a rather unexpected manifestation of that privilege—to collectively support a criminal convicted by the Supreme Court and thus to make the verdict of the highest court of the country count for nothing against their partisan and perverse collective will in defending a lawbreaker. One cannot help wondering if such privileges can be counted on to keep our lawmakers on the side of the people.

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