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|September 28, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/N Ram, editor Frontline
The picture of a shaken and unsmiling O Panneerselvam, Tamil Nadu's new chief minister standing behind Jayalalithaa is still fresh in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu. Panneerselvam, later haltingly told the press that it was Amma's government, and he was only keeping the chair warm for her.
Finally, Tamil Nadu has also gone the Bihar way. Can Jayalalithaa come back? If she is convicted in the Tansi land deal case, can the party survive her absence? Shobha Warrier asked noted journalist and Frontline Editor N Ram for his views on the recent upheaval in Tamil Nadu politics.
Jayalalithaa did not express any alarm at the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying her as chief minister. The transfer of power also was smooth. Do you think she was anticipating this kind of an eventuality?
I think she would have known that there was a good chance of this happening. Perhaps she was hoping this wouldn't happen. But I saw it from the start. I said it was totally wrong on her part -- a total misjudgment -- that she tried to become the chief minister after being disqualified from contesting the election.
They were exploiting a provision in the Constitution, Article 164 (1) that is very non-demanding. The question is whether that could be used to allow foreigners or lunatics or disqualified people or those under 25 to occupy certain positions. It doesn't say they cannot, but there are other provisions in the law that say they cannot. Here, there is a gray area or lacuna in the law. But the Supreme Court has done very well in interpreting it correctly.
The significance of the judgment goes far beyond the Jayalalithaa case. One -- no longer can anyone try to use this loophole to sneak in. Earlier they used to step down for a day and again get sworn in after a gap of half an hour! Now, it is clear that you cannot be disqualified to be a legislator, and be qualified to be a minister.
Two and the most important -- they have upheld the Election Commission's order of 1997 which basically says that you are not protected from disqualification just because you appeal. It was earlier interpreted casually that even if a person were convicted in the trial court, if s/he appeals to the higher court, the conviction would not take effect. That was ended not by the Supreme Court but by the Election Commission. This was enforced in Jayalalithaa's case.
It was the order of the Election Commission, which resulted in her disqualification. The Supreme Court has upheld that order also, which is a very significant judgment. In future, you are not protected from disqualification by an appeal.
To sum up, Jayalalithaa should have known better. She was pushing her luck and doing a wrong thing. In the process, a number of wrong acts were committed like the arrest of Karunanidhi and the attack on the media, etc.
Was it wrong on the governor's part to swear her in as chief minister?
It was completely wrong for the governor to do that. If she was a lay person, it was a understandable. Here was a former judge of the Supreme Court who very casually says -- which is totally indefensible -- that her decision was based on the mandate. The nature of the mandate has nothing to do with it. Because of the alliance arithmetic, her party won a good number of seats. Jayalalithaa did her sums right and Karunanidhi did his sums wrong. It was not a big sweep for her, and even if there was a sweep, you can't violate the Constitution.
The governor was totally wrong and it was a serious and costly misjudgment. She (the governor) should have known. You say the law is not clear but till now, nobody has tested it. It is not that the law was sleeping and didn't say anything. This situation did not arise earlier.
It was reported that some lawyers felt it was not necessary for Jayalalithaa to resign after the Supreme Court verdict, that she did so to get the sympathy of the people. Do you feel she could have continued?
Who said that? She didn't resign; her appointment was quashed. Even that dignified option of resigning was not given to her. They said, her appointment was invalid and unconstitutional. So, she ceased to be the chief minister. There was no question of her resigning.
So many names of probable candidates floated in the papers but finally she sprang a surprise by choosing a total nonentity as CM. Is it to prove the newspapers wrong or is it to please the Sasikala clan?
I would call the appointment of Paneerselvam contempt of court. The Supreme Court gave a verdict and this was her response to it; not in the literal sense. Okay, it is her party's business to choose the chief minister. But it is not a good situation because you have no credibility.
See, she doesn't want anyone who will grow in the job, who can hold his or her own in the job. She will feel threatened. It is a party that depends entirely on one person. Therefore, she won't tolerate any person of capability.
The Hindu editorial pointed out that we didn't want any extra constitutional inputs here but it was bound to happen. It will be undignified if bureaucrats, the chief secretary or the secretary to the CM has to go Poes Garden (the area where Jayalalithaa's home is located) for instructions.
Do you expect Fort St George shifting its office to Poes Garden?
It seems to be happening. I first thought it would not happen in Tamil Nadu. It is very undignified.
We saw the chief minister and many other ministers prostrating in front of Jayalalithaa. What kind of image will it send the outside world?
It sends a very bad message and signal, that this party is full of sycophants and they have no backbone or independence. Even if they are talented, their talents will not be allowed to grow and flourish.
Suppose she loses the Tansi case and goes to jail, what will happen to this party? It will be in huge trouble. It will mean three years of imprisonment, and then, this remote control governance will not work. Then, the party may split too.
After announcing Panneerselvam's name, she said she would return as CM soon. How is she so confident, or was it just a facade to pacify her party?
It reflects a certain style of politics; that I am above everything else. She is very insecure about the whole thing. She is profoundly worried. Who knows how the appeal will go?
Acting as a remote control chief minister makes her unaccountable. Does that worsen the situation?
It worsens the situation very much. There will be confusion, internal chaos, resentment among people who are capable and experienced... and this cannot continue for too long.
It was quite different with the Shiv Sena, as Bal Thackeray never aspired to be chief minister. Of course, it is also not healthy at all.
Dr Subramanian Swamy remarked that Jayalalithaa was also remote controlled by Sasikala. Do you also feel so?
I think Sasikala and her family is certainly a factor, and the present chief minister is clearly their preferred person, if not the nominee. But Jayalalithaa should not be underestimated. She certainly is a fighter, very intelligent, able to work up with the masses. She has a lot of political capabilities. So, I don't think it was purely Sasikala controlling her. Yes, it is a strong factor, even though at one point, Jayalalithaa was supposed to be keeping them at bay. They are suddenly back in a big way, all around her. It certainly looks like a wall of extra-constitutional authority.
Do you expect the so-called Mannarkudi gang to take over the party from Jayalalithaa?
That's impossible because minus Jayalalithaa, they are nothing. If there is no Jayalalithaa, it will immediately bring about the decline and fall of the AIADMK. The party will not only split but it will be decimated too.
Now that she is out of power, what kind of future do you see for Jayalalithaa?
Her future is very clouded because she has been legally besieged. She is now desperately seeking an acquittal in order to stage a political comeback, and also to regain her legal rights. At the moment, it looks like she is in big trouble.
In what way will her future as a politician affect the political scene in Tamil Nadu?
If she is convicted and goes to jail, it will create a serious crisis for her party. It can be a gift to the Opposition. Then, there will a realignment of forces, perhaps because the AIADMK without Jayalalithaa cannot remain intact; certainly not under Paneerselvam's leadership. Both the party and the people won't accept him.
If Jayalalithaa returns, that is, if she is acquitted, then, there are the other cases. The question will be, who will conduct the prosecution. That is the biggest weakness highlighted by this whole case.
We still don't have a machinery for independent investigation and prosecution. Not only here but at the Centre too as in the case of L K Advani. The CBI is investigating a big crime relating to the Babri Masjid demolition. These people are in power. So, how independent can the investigation or prosecution be? That is the question.
The lesson here is, you need independent investigators and prosecutors.
Do you expect a kind of sympathy wave for her in the coming local body election?
No. I don't think so. I would say she has been weakened by the exit of the PMK.
If she suffers a setback, the Opposition will immediately interpret it as people's rejection. If she wins, she will interpret it as an endorsement of her ways.
Subramanian Swamy says if the new CM does not wake up from his deplorable stupor, he (Swamy) will have no alternative but to approach the court to seek a quo warranto directive to rectify the situation. Is it possible?
I don't know. Yes, earlier, when he moved the court saying the governor cannot appoint her, it prevailed. Let us see...
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