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|September 26, 2001||
T V R Shenoy
Throw the remote control away
Let me begin with a caveat: I have no intentions to write about the impending war between the United States and the terrorists. This war -- assuming it is not confined to mere words -- will not be a short one; it will take anywhere between one year and twenty. There will be plenty of time to bewail the conduct of this conflict as well as its bloody effects on nations across the world. So, I prefer to break ranks with the mass of my fellow journalists on this issue.
The word 'journalist' shares its roots with the French 'jour' -- meaning 'day'. But, after almost four decades in the profession, I occasionally wonder if we journalists aren't so caught up in the passions of the day that we forget -- or ignore -- that which is eternal.
I include myself in this criticism. For instance, most of last week was taken up with the clangour of the American war machine as it limbered up. Then, at the end of the week, there came the enforced resignation of J Jayalalithaa. Sadly, in the midst of all this, far too many of us forgot the significance of September 16, 2001.
It was the 85th birthday of one of the great ladies of our age, M S Subbulakshmi, the 'Voice of the Century' as Dr S Radhakrishnan hailed her. Forecasting the future is usually a fool's game, but let me confidently predict one thing: long after the calls to war and the wailing outside Poes Garden are forgotten, people shall continue to treasure their recordings of Subbulakshmi.
There is good reason to suspect that the Bharat Ratna, India's highest decoration, is often distributed for political reasons. But the acclamation was universal when M S Subbulakshmi received it. If there had been a modern Vikramaditya ruling India, she would surely have been one of his 'Nava-ratna'.
I would love to dedicate this column to M S Subbulakshmi. However, duty compels me to write of another matter. No, not the 'war on terrorism' promised by President Bush, but of the recent Supreme Court judgment that resulted in the unseating of Jayalalithaa.
If India is proud of M S Subbulakshmi, it is equally gratified with the Supreme Court. Properly understood, their lordships were not actually delivering a ruling against the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu. They were laying down a principle, that the principles of the Constitution take precedence over fickle public opinion. That, sadly, was lost in the din of speculation over who would succeed the fallen boss of the AIADMK.
Quite frankly, it didn't matter a whit. The outgoing chief minister's choice fell upon her revenue minister, O Paneerselvam. It could have been any other of a hundred other legislators, each of whom is just as much of a nonentity. Of course, had Paneerselvam been a figure of any note, he would never have become the chief minister; Jayalalithaa would never have trusted him then!
However, it is not my place to debate the internal dynamics of the AIADMK, which has always believed in there being a 'Supreme Leader.' Yet it is a different matter when this toadying becomes an issue that affects the political structure. Very simply put, we in India have failed to create a way whereby the will of the people is reflected in the choice of the chief executive, and in creating a clear line of succession.
These, incidentally, are not issues that began in Chennai. A serious debate should have begun four years ago when Laloo Prasad Yadav brazenly made his wife the chief minister of Bihar. Instead, it was brushed under the carpet -- partly because most of India's politicians harbour dynastic ambitions.
Returning to the issue of succession, I was struck by some important absences when President Bush addressed his nation last week. Almost everyone who counts for anything in the federal government was there -- members of the Cabinet, senators, congressmen, the justices of the Supreme Court, even the chiefs of staff. But the vice-president, one of the leaders of the House of Representatives, and a member of the Cabinet were elsewhere. This was done deliberately -- to ensure the work of the government would continue even if the people gathered in the Capitol building were wiped out in a terrorist attack.
The line of succession is given in mind-numbing detail under American law. If the president dies, the vice-president takes over. If the vice-president dies, the speaker of the House of Representatives is the next in line. And then the president pro tempore of the Senate. And then the secretary of state. And so on and so forth...
Every citizen of the United States knows precisely who the chief executive shall be at any given time. I am sorry that this eminently sensible system has not been adopted in India as well. This gives rise to an endless series of speculative stories, going back all the way to the 'Who After Nehru?' reports that were a staple in the 1950s. This is all fun and games for journalists but it does damned little to ensure a degree of stability in administration.
There is little point, practically none in appointing someone as 'deputy chief minister' or 'deputy prime minister'. This certainly does not guarantee that the man or woman thus dignified will actually succeed to the top job. For instance, who thought that O Paneerselvam, elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly for the first time, would become chief minister as well? Does anyone think he is even remotely qualified to hold the post once graced by Rajaji, Kamaraj, or Annadurai?
Dispose of this nonsense! Put in a decent line of succession, and cloak it with the authority of the law. Haven't we had enough of these remote-controlled, Rabri-style ministries?
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