Two states of the Indian Union are in news at the moment. In both Uttar Pradesh in the north and Tamil Nadu in the south, the million-dollar topic at the moment is 'succession', though the reasons are different.
First, UP. The state, which is just a few weeks away from a crucial Assembly election, is yet to see its ruling party – the Samajwadi Party (SP) – overcome its crisis, and nobody still knows whether the party will remain a whole in the upcoming seven-phase polling. It is difficult to believe that among the major post-Congress politicians in India who have chosen dynastic politics like the Gandhis, Mulayam Singh Yadav will be locking horns against his own successor, Akhilesh Yadav and looks weak to lose control of his own party.
Also read: Mulayam loses 'cycle' to son Akhilesh
When we look at Tamil Nadu, we see that state, too, facing the question of succession following the demise of J Jayalalithaa in December 2016. But ironically, while the ruling party in the northern state is facing a crisis despite having a successor in place, the one in the southern state – AIADMK – has seen quite a smooth transition after the death of a leader who had no defined successor. Do the developments in UP and Tamil Nadu hint at something unique unfolding in Indian politics? That dynasticism is not essentially the answer to succession as it was always perceived?
TN politics hasn't seen a storm after Panneerselvam & Sasikala's rise
We are still some time away from saying an emphatic YES. But to an extent, yes. Tamil Nadu, so far, hasn't witnessed any chaos, which many thought would have engulfed the state after Jaya's death. Two Thevar leaders – O Panneerselvam and Sasikala Natarajan – have taken up important positions in the government and the party, respectively. It's not that there have been no repercussions (Jaya's disappointed niece Deepa Jayakumar, for instance, has become a rally point for the anti-Sasikala factions) but overall, the situation is Tamil Nadu has been normal. There are political reasons for this normalcy.
Panneerselvam no fresher in TN politics
Though Panneerselvam is much small a figure in politics to fill the void created by Jayalalithaa's exit, he has been a top minister in the AIADMK government, including its chief minister twice when Jayalalithaa retreated for legal reasons. Thus, even if Sasikala is considered having a strong clout, there is little chance of her trying to rock the boat anytime soon to replace Panneerselvam as the chief minister. That could backfire among the loyalists of Jayalalithaa who have seen the latter as her representative on the throne (the Rama-Bharat syndrome of Ramayana one might say).
Tamil identity politics is big in Tamil Nadu
Moreover, the BJP hasn't succeeded so far in penetrating the state, thanks to the prevalence of strong Dravidian parties and will find the current void as the best time to strike. But Tamil Nadu is known for its strong identity politics and the local forces there will not be foolish to give the 'Hindi' party a chance to capitalise on the current uncertainty.
One has seen how the ruling and Opposition parties of the state have galvanised on Jallikattu, a strong cultural ritual in the state. CM Panneerselvam also stimulated the Tamil sentiment by raising the issue of drought, which will invariably renew the state's battle with the neighbouring Karnataka over sharing the Cauvery river water. It wouldn't be surprising to see the DMK not trying to topple the AIADMK government, which came in just seven months ago, so that the Narendra Modis and Amit Shahs reap any benefit.
Coming back to the question of succession, Tamil Nadu's history has not seen dynastic successors taking over from leaders but rather people who they mentored. After Annadurai, it was Karunanidhi who came to prominence while Jayalalithaa had taken over from MG Ramachandran even though the latter's wife Janaki had made a futile attempt to win the political tug-of-war. MK Stalin who took over as the DMK's working president from his nonagenarian father Karunanidhi a few days ago is a sign of dynasticism but he has a long way to go to prove his worth.
Compare this to the situation in UP. An ugly struggle is underway between the father and son, something that was difficult to envision in 2012 when Mulayam, like the average dynastic politician in India, felt proud about his son taking over as the CM. It was believed that the SP was ready for the future and would eclipse its arch-rivals Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which, like the AIADMK, has no family successor. But just as politics is uncertain, so is the future of the SP at the moment.
Dynasticism has been India's favourite, but of late it hasn't shown signs of success
In India, dynastic politics is a favourite practice since it offers a number of advantages. It minimises the chances of rebellion, extends the leadership, ensures loyalty, hence safeguarding the organisation, keeps the finances in safe hands, etc. It is for these reasons that late prime minister Indira Gandhi, a ruthlessly ambitious politician, had turned the Congress into a family fiefdom and flagged off a trend that several parties imitated in later years even while fighting the same Congress.
But that dynasticism is not a guarantee for success has been seen in the last one decade. The Shiv Sena's late patriarch Bal Thackeray's call to make his own son Uddhav saw the party getting split, seriously damaging its prospects in Maharashtra politics. The Congress has not really seen its fourth-generation leader in Rahul Gandhi succeeding like his predecessors so far. And now the state of affairs in the SP. Given the fact that UP is a more politically diverse and competitive state than Tamil Nadu makes the SP's crisis look even more serious. If the party fails to unite itself and takes a severe beating in the upcoming election, the future of just not Mulayam or Akhilesh but the entire Yadav clan will be in great jeopardy.