The drama that has unfolded in Tamil Nadu in the wake of J Jayalalithaa's death has been condemned at several quarters. "This is where the level of India's democracy has come down to," has been the most commonly heard criticism. Really, things are taken too much for granted in India. May be, we have administered ourselves an extra dose of democracy. Or else, how can a "nobody" like Sasikala can stake claim to power? The general line of condemnation has gone like this.
While the tinge of sourness in the observation can't be denied, one must also understand that it is the very chaotic democracy which has been saving India's face to some degree. Sasikala's claim to power was definitely unethical and it ultimately did not succeed, thanks to the inherent system of checks and balances prevalent in the system. Here, the unfair chances of running away with the prize can still be limited, thanks to a culture of vigilance.
Compare this to the recent killing of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, at an airport in Malaysia. It is said that Jong-nam was by no means a challenger to his all-powerful brother but yet was not spared. Three years ago, Jong-un's administration had executed his own uncle Jang-sung Taek, after calling him as "traitor for all ages". The Kim family has been known for such bloody purges but things have become more explicit ever since the cheese-loving Jong-un took over from. A dreaded personality cult has been established in the hermit kingdom and the lack of democracy has helped it get more dreadful over the years.
Personality cult is the byword in Tamil political culture now as well
Tamil Nadu, too, has found a personality cult entrenched in its political culture by now. The seeds of populism that actor-turned-politicians like MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa had sowed in the past have now come to haunt the state under their successors. The departure of the 'charisma' factor with the deaths of the two former cine stars has made the drama over political succession in the southern state abhorring for many. But yet, the personality cult in Tamil Nadu has not turned into what we see in states like North Korea because there is an element of democracy in its functioning.
Or, for that matter, in the way the political culture of India works. One eminent social scientist had said once that the Indian democracy is not about good or bad but rather how less bad. In Tamil Nadu, while we see the worse part of the drama, we should also remember that it has a positive side as well. The quest for succession is less likely to be as bloody as it is in North Korea or any other state which is yet to have a tryst with democracy and important questions like successor are settled by bullet rather than the ballot. The conviction and imprisonment of Sasikala, despite her proximity to power, riches and influence, is an example.
However, not becoming a North Korea is certainly not a feat
However, not becoming a North Korea certainly doesn't make Tamil Nadu's case an ideal one. The common man have not taken the politicians' strategy of making money speak while forming the government, more than their mandate, well. Sasikala's ouster is certainly a hopeful sign about India's legal functioning but the possibility of her running the show from behind the bars through loyalists and stooges don't show our democracy in a positive light. We deserve a pat on our back that political succession in India is still not decided in the way it is in non-democratic regimes like North Korea but we still have miles to conquer.