Panneerselvam: Why remote controls are disasters

Last Updated: Mon, Sep 29, 2014 14:57 hrs

In 1991, Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar became a Central minister and handed over power to Sudhakarrao Naik. At the very beginning, Pawar maintained that he would be the remote control.

That went off very badly. Naik regularly clashed with Pawar especially over taking on the Mumbai underworld and their tussle is known more for the horrific 1992-93 Mumbai riots where the State machinery completely broke down.

The remote control broke down too and the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao sent Pawar packing back to Mumbai and Naik became a footnote in Maharashtra’s political history.

This was quite reminiscent of Gujarat Chief Minister Hitendra Desai who was pulled in two different directions by Congress stalwarts Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai.

That also had led to riots in 1969. That was the first major riot after the communal violence of 1947 and the State continued to be communalized for decades to come.

Maharashtra also had the misfortune of seeing Balasaheb Thackeray remote controlling both Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane. That was mega blunder by Shiv Sena and the State saw a total breakdown of governance.

The voters never forgave the Sena. The lacklustre Congress-NCP got 15 years and Sena finished a lowly fourth in the 2009 Assembly elections. The BJP may actually gain by breaking away with the Sena.

Laloo Prasad Yadav remote controlled his own wife Rabri Devi to oblivion. Rabri and Laloo sank in 2005 and they have been out of power in the State for 9 years and are nowhere in the Centre too.

And of course the biggest example is the Congress where party President Sonia Gandhi preferred to remote control all her Chief Ministers. The Congress always had strong regional leaders, but no more.

If you look at the 10 most populous states in India, then the Congress has Chief Ministers in only Maharashtra and Karnataka. They look set to lose the former next month and such a situation is unprecedented for the Congress.

Of course nothing has been more disastrous than the remote control Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which may have well destroyed the Grand Old Party in India for good.

The BJP-Congress seats in the Lok Sabha stands at 282-44 and is unprecedented in India and the Congress got a solid knockout punch thanks to a 10-year remote control.

Now the latest remote control on the block is O Panneerselvam. He is the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu thanks to his predecessor Jayalalitha being convicted by a special court in Bengaluru in a disproportionate assets case.

If Jaya thinks that she can govern by remote control, then she is sadly mistaken. In the worst case scenario, she is looking at 4 years in jail and a further 6 years outside the State legislature. That’s 10 years. She is 66 and could be totally free of everything only at the age of 76.

That means she effectively may have already retired already.

In the best case scenario, the High Court will give her immediate relief, but she still won’t be able to contest elections or even attend the Assembly as a member till 2020. That’s too far off. She may rule AIADMK like a dictator with an iron fist today, but that will not be the case forever and her downfall has begun.

There will be the issue of litigation, survival strategies, frequent trips to the court and the little matter of the Rs-100-crore-penalty to be paid in white money all accounted for. Like it or not self-preservation will trump the welfare of Tamil Nadu.

Governance will go out of the window with such a person remote controlling the State.

Further with each setback, the knives will be out in the ADMK and a coup (impossible today) could become more and more probable with each passing day.

But all this is a pity. Whenever a State starts doing well in India, something mysteriously pulls it back.Call it a jinx.

Maharashtra was India’s premier State and Pawar in 1991 had a grand vision for the State which never could be implemented and it saw one setback after another.

SM Krishna (Karnataka) and N Chandrababu Naidu(Andhra Pradesh) were taking their States to the next level when the electorate booted them both out in 2004.

Nitish Kumar set a solid base for a ravaged Bihar in his first term, but after breaking with the BJP in his second term, the State has relapsed.

And now it is the turn of Tamil Nadu. Jayalalitha’s first term in 1991-96 was a disaster. However after that Jaya actually started taking TN to great heights. Industries were wooed, there was a great focus on the road sector and the State marched on to become power surplus.

There was also great focus on social welfare schemes and Jaya enjoys tremendous popularity in the State today.When Jaya boasted that the Tamil Nadu Model was better than the Gujarat Model, she had a valid argument. However all that is already history.

Jaya, like every other leader before her, cannot execute a perfect remote control. Panneerselvam will be ineffective. The DMK, which looked dead, will get a revival. Finally the BJP will move in for the kill.

Tamil Nadu is heading for some turbulent times indeed!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here.