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Sasikala In Jail: Why She Is No Jayalalitha, Lalu Yadav Or Om Prakash Chauthala

Sutanu Guru argues why the efforts of Sasikala to foist a proxy as she goes to jail will eventually fail

Photo Credit : PTI


Politics in India is fueled by money and patronage networks. Convicted confidante of the late J. Jayalalithaa seems to think this reality will help her rule Tamil Nadu by proxy as she spends the next four years in jail on charges of corruption. Ruling from behind the scenes is nothing new in India. The most notorious example of this was popularly elected Congress leader Sonia Gandhi "appointing" Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India. But do note the words popularly elected, besides the obvious fact that Sonia Gandhi never faced any serious charges of corruption. Jayalalitha did, and went twice to jail on corruption charges while ruling from behind bars. Sasikala is trying something similar. But she will fail.

Politics does need money and patronage networks. But sustained political success and durability also needs much more. Words like personal charisma, popularity and grassroots support matter a lot in politics. Even though Jayalaithaa went to jail twice, there was never any doubt about her personal popularity and charisma. In fact, voters of Tamil Nadu were firmly of the opinion that they had punished her in 1996 for "corruption" and "arrogance" by handing out a massive defeat in the assembly elections. That's the reason why millions of Tamil Nadu citizens actually mourned when she was convicted by a trial court a few years ago. In fact, Tamil Nadu voters gave her a record second successive mandate in the 2016 assembly elections.

There is a parallel here with the political destiny and enduring success of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. Almost two decades ago, Lalu Yadav had to go to jail on charges of corruption in the fodder scam. He installed his wife Rabri Devi as chief minister and ruled by proxy. There was much talk of how voters in Bihar would reject this brazen kind of politics. And yet, RJD, the party led by Lalu Yadav won the assembly elections handsomely, shocking naive and idealistic pundits. Before Lalu lost Bihar in 2005, he had ruled the state effectively for 15 years. And when he was convicted a few years ago and sentenced to jail, Lalu was barred from contesting elections. Many thought that his political career was at an end. And yet, look at how he has bounced back with a vengeance in Bihar. It is charisma and grassroots support that did the trick.

On a much smaller scale, convicted former chief minister of Haryana has done something similar. Like in the case of Sasikala, the Supreme Court has confirmed a jail term for Chauthala. But his party Lok Dal still enjoys considerable grass roots support in Haryana. The state went the BJP way in 2014 thanks to the Modi wave. But even critics of Chauthala agree that his party could emerge as a formidable force when elections come around in 2019.

The plain fact is that Sasikala simply doesn't enjoy the charisma, popularity and grass roots support that these leaders enjoyed even in their worst political faces. In fact, there is tremendous grass roots resentment against Sasikala in Tamil Nadu. She may still have the money and may still control some patronage networks. But that's about it. One can safely say that her new found political ambitions will never be fulfilled. For most Tamil Nadu voters, Sasikala has got her just desserts because they think it was her scheming ways that led their beloved Amma to jail.