There is no joy in being a chief minister. Don’t believe us? Okay, go back to the television footage of a new Tamil Nadu Government being installed on Monday. From O. Panneerselvam, the fortunate one to have got the nod from the jailed AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa to take over as chief minister, to everyone else who was sworn in as minister, cried openly during and after the oath-taking ceremony. Such loyalty, such craven show of sycophancy is not peculiar to Tamil Nadu alone. Congressmen and women have often vied with one another to prostrate, very often physically but mostly verbally, before the Gandhis. Even supposedly educated ones like Mani Shankar Aiyar compete with the thoroughly crass ones, the staple of the party, in singing paeans of undeserved praise to the Gandhis. In fact, the party spokesman and a self-confessed tax-evader, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, not long ago had publicly intoned that `Rahul Gandhi is a born leader.’
Now we all know the leadership calibre of Rahul, though people like Singhvi, who not long ago had made news for all the wrong reasons, fail to see that Gandhi is a complete non-starter. In fact, if you condone soul-deadening boot-licking, you will not fault the AIADMK lot. At least, the whole thing is transactional. It is the public demeaning of one’s own self that invariably guarantees you goodies from the Lady Bountiful. From the party ticket to contest the election to a berth in the ministry is all dependent on how and how much you crawl before the Czarina of Poes Garden. So, when she cools her heels in the jug, failing to get a hearing on Tuesday on her bail plea following her conviction and sentence in a case of disproportionate assets, her crawlers had every reason to cry. How could they enjoy the loaves and fishes of high ministerial office when the one and only one that the AIADMK has to call a leader is made to share space with common criminals in a jail, which is not even under the control of the state government.
This was a double whammy for poor Jayalalithaa. First, they transferred the DA case outside Tamil Nadu. Now that a judge has at long last, in fact more than 18 years after that habitual tormentor of politicians like Jayalalalithaa, namely, Subramaniam Swamy, first filed the FIR, convicted her, they insist on keeping her in a Karnataka prison. That is unfair. Poor thing should be allowed to serve her sentence, that is, if it is not suspended till the entire appeal process is exhausted fully, in Tamil Nadu where her loyal flock in and outside the state government can be trusted to `take good care of her.’ At least, Lalu Yadav had enjoyed the luxury of a state-owned guest house in Patna while good wife Rabri Devi had occupied the chief minister’s ‘gaddi.’ Oh, that reminds us. Panneerselvam, they call him Tamil Nadu’s Manmohan Singh, refuses to occupy the chief minister’s office and insists on working from the chamber he had used as a mere minister.
In this, we do appreciate, Panneerselvam has even outdone Manmohan Singh insofar as the latter had shown the temerity to actually occupy the PM’s office and residence. But then Singh’s maker had not occupied the prime minister’s office and, therefore, there was no question of convicting her on corruption charges. Which makes us wonder if Sonia Gandhi and even Rahul Gandhi are not cleverer than they might appear. For, there can be no question of a conviction of a politician for amassing assets disproportionate to one’s known sources of income unless he or she has held a ministerial office. Jayalalithaa has been convicted for amassing illicit wealth during her chief ministerial stint in 1991-96.
But the Gandhis, the mother-and-son duo, have never held any ministerial office, though they too live in the lap of most extravagant luxury. Admittedly, public focus and legal ambit is substantially reduced for non-ministers than for ministers when it comes to corruption charges. Why, the DA cases against both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, which successive central governments have used as a ‘Brahamastra’ to make them fall in line, essentially pertain to their stints as chief minister of UP. Not before, nor after. So say what you will but there is percentage in wielding power without ever holding any ministerial office. For proof, look no further than the Gandhis. Maybe Rahul is cleverer than most Congressmen. If the entire party crawls even when he is in no position to win them an election, it is hard to imagine what Congress crawlers would do were he to really succeed. Since all politics has become transactional, Panneerselvam and others in the AIADMK would not be ministers if they failed to cry at the sorry plight of their Puratchi Thalaivi. Their path to ministership was paved with cries and tears, a malaise that equally infects all family-owned political businesses in the country.