Sasikala Spectacle: Shocking what passes for democracy in India

Chief Minister must not only be freely chosen but must also be seen to be freely chosen.

Written by Ujjal Dosanjh | Updated: February 10, 2017 1:07 pm
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The Indian polity is drowning in corruption. Many of India’s politicians are corrupt. Quite a number of them are known criminals facing serious charges before the courts. Most political parties are guilty of running a significant number of candidates with criminal records and cases hanging over their heads. The civil servants are completely uncivil and corrupt — no less than the politicians. Many of the cadres of the IPS, IAS, IFS and numerous other federal and state services are busy accumulating wealth by hook or by crook. The corruption and its deadly poison of unethicality, amorality and immorality have seeped deep into the vitals of each and every aspect of India’s life. This much is incontestable except by the human ostriches with their heads in the murky and corrosive sand dunes of denial.

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Since shortly after independence, the unprincipled and unethical politicians have been plundering the country; the Indians talk about it, cry about it, shout about it and campaign about it. But the naked dance of corruption goes on and the deeply ingrained ethical and financial sickness and morass continue to bedevil India and its politics. The feudal ethic of loyalty to family too continues to reign supreme and suffocate politics. Previously, the Nehru-Gandhis were the only major example of this slavery. One can now add Yadavs of UP and Bihar, Badals of Punjab, several BJP politicians and their scions and others across the country to the list. This will eventually prove deadly for liberal democracy.

The latest episode of Indian democracy under stress happens to involve the AIADMK leaders and MLAs in Tamil Nadu. Some AIADMK MLAs have been in an obscene rush to anoint Sasikala chief minister of Tamil Nadu. In their mad and blind dash to do this, they are prepared to ignore the very serious criminal disproportionate assets case against her still pending before the Supreme Court. They aren’t even prepared to wait for the decision of the court which we are told is due any day. The politics in India being extremely corrupt, unethical and embedded much beyond politics, deep into India’s cultural and social values, one is terrified to confess – but in its soul – the very low threshold of ethics and principles exhibited by the MLAs in this sorry and depressing tale hasn’t at all registered in the editorial rooms of major print and electronic media.

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It is reported that Sasikala herded and whisked away about 120 MLAs, plus or minus a few, into hotels and resorts to keep them locked away to ensure they did not declare their loyalties to someone else. About 30 of them are said to be fasting in protest against being virtual prisoners of Sasikala and her henchmen. This is the time-worn method often used in India to ensure continued support from the legislators as the herder lays claim to the chief ministership of a state. This terribly feudal and undemocratic practice has been used by so many and so often that it has barely caused a ripple on the opinion pages.

It is abhorrent that the ‘Sasikala MLAs’ were under virtual house arrest as she presented their signatures to the governor in support of her claim to the top seat. This must be sufficient in itself for the governor to reject those signatures as not having been made by the MLAs of their own volition; treat them as inked under duress in ‘captivity’. The governor should personally ask to see the MLAs – one by one if that was his wish – in the presence of a couple of independent observers. That would allow the MLAs to freely express their support for their choice of leader for the AIADMK. Based on that voluntary expression of support, the governor should ask the one backed by the majority to form the government and allow for the trust vote to be had in the Assembly.

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The constitutional experts may scoff at this proposal. There is a larger issue at stake. Why should a state governor act on a list of signatures of men and women under virtual imprisonment presented by anyone – in this case Sasikala – to allow him/her to don the mantle of Chief Minister? For democracy to mean something, there must a fundamental right to choose founded on a freely exercised will; the MLAs in choosing their legislative leader must at least be as free as the voters in a general election. In free and fair elections, the voters have the right to freely choose their representatives. The governor should ensure the AIADMK MLAs have the same right: To freely choose their leader before he/she is allowed to become the chief minister. The chief minister must not only be freely chosen but must also be seen to be freely chosen before being given the opportunity for a confidence vote in the Assembly. The governor should follow this route. Let true democracy reign; and let the democratic chips fall where they may: on VK Sasikala, O Pannneerselvam or on someone completely different. That is what transparency and democracy demand. That is what people – in this case the people of Tamil Nadu – deserve!

(Views expressed by the author are personal.)

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