POLITICS

Will Sasikala Now Bring In A Complimentary First Family To The AIADMK?

What’s happening in Tamil Nadu is what psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud had famously called “transference”.

18/01/2017 9:48 AM IST | Updated 18/01/2017 12:11 PM IST
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General secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), VK Sasikala gestures to cadres on her arrival to take up office at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on December 31, 2016. VK Sasikala was elected as the general secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after its chief, Jayalalithaa -- popularly known as 'Amma' or mother -- died aged 68 on December 5. / AFP / ARUN SANKAR (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

After the untimely death of J Jayalithaa, the transfer of power in Tamil Nadu has been much smoother than many expected. The administrative power went to her trusted standby, and the political power to her caretaker of three decades. And things looked settled for the moment.

Of the two, the inheritance of political authority appeared absolutely flawless when nobody, even probably Jayalalithaa, had a clue as to who would take her role in case anything happened to her. Sasikala walked in with a considerably smart backstory that projected her as a dedicated caretaker who sacrificed her life for the mass leader, the image of a reluctant non-aspirant, and the 'There Is No Alternative' factor.

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General secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), VK Sasikala (C) gestures to cadres on her arrival to take up office at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on December 31, 2016.

The backstory was sufficiently prepped and reinforced with organisational manoeuvres so that she could seamlessly fit in. Her first performance as well as the subsequent public appearances were very professional and all that is left before her now is winning the people's support.

However, in the last few days, there were two more attempts that sought to seek a share of the vacuum that Jaya had left behind - one, by her niece Deepa Jayakumar, whom people hadn't known till recently; and the other, by Sasikala's family that some sections of the local media pejorative call the "Mannargudi Mafia".

While what Deepa is attempting is usurping the space that Sasikala has already occupied because she is a blood-relative of Jayalalithaa, the Mannargudi network's aim is to expand Sasikala's privilege and establish itself as a first family, a family that has the political authority to rule the state. They deserve no blame because in most of Indian politics, democracy is about family rule and political parties are dynasties without which they tend to be weak.

Jayalalithaa didn't have one, and hence Sasikala's family wants to fill that gap. The rival camp of the DMK always had a big and extended family, that dabbled in both politics and businesses, and it's a brilliant late opportunity to establish one in the AIADMK.

Being the first family is not just an ornamental existence, but the source of limitless extra-constitutional power as examples from every corner of the country shows - whether it's the Gandhis, Yadavs, Patnaiks, Chowthalas, Reddys, Thackerays, Abdullas and Gowdas. Whether it's good or bad, Indian politics is incomplete without a family and a dynasty because that also offers the bloodline for future leadership.

We are not mushrooms that sprouted today due to rain yesterday. We are not new to politics, everyone has played their part in AIADMK's progress over the years.

Although Sasikala's family-tree with political and business interests is rather big, the two people who are trying to retrofit the AIADMK with the family are her husband M Natarajan and Divakaran (also spelt as Divaharan). Two days ago, Natarajan organised a function in Thanjavur to celebrate the state's harvest festival Pongal where he made the first claim for the family: "My wife Sasikala was protecting Jayalalithaa for 30 years. When she was denied permission to see MGR's body, we took her to the funeral. When she was pushed down from the funeral vehicle of MGR, our family members stood in support of her and all through her life...So, there is nothing immoral if our family members are involved in politics."

Claiming further political credibility for the family, Divakaran added at the same function: "We are not mushrooms that sprouted today due to rain yesterday. We are not new to politics, everyone has played their part in AIADMK's progress over the years. But it is important to mention Natarajan's contributions. He saved the party after MGR. He was instrumental in getting back the two leaves symbol of the AIADMK which was blocked by the EC."

"In 2011, there was a huge conspiracy against us. They wanted to remove us so that they can finish off Amma. Nothing happened then, we stopped it."

Divakaran even claimed that there was threat to Jaya's life in 2011 and it was the family that saved her: "In 2011, there was a huge conspiracy against us. They wanted to remove us so that they can finish off Amma. Nothing happened then, we stopped it. We don't have any hidden agenda."

The signals from the family cannot be clearer and more direct than this. The propaganda has begun. In fact, some early attempts were made immediately after Jaya's death, but probably due to potential backlash, they were not persisted with. It's now only a matter of when and how they start lining up behind Sasikala and the AIADMK.

ARUN SANKAR via Getty Images
Indian general secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) VK Sasikala pays her respects at the memorial for former state chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram after being elected party general secretary in Chennai on December 30.

On the other hand, Deepa's intentions are not clear. Is it just a resentment of being excluded from Jaya's vicinity, or the anger against an outsider who first controlled her aunt's life and now took over her party; or is it a genuine interest of sustaining Jaya's legacy in the true tradition of Indian dynastic politics?

She has been making noises since the last days of Jaya and hasn't been able to move much. Even at the press conference on Tuesday in which she was expected to announce her plans, she continued to drag her feet. If politics is about seizing the opportunity, Sasikala has already done it and Deepa seems to be still unsure of the know-how and the do-how. Except her ancestry and some resemblance to Jaya, which has been accentuated by a shoddy makeover in the recent days, she doesn't have much to offer. If she is really serious, she has to be way too smarter, emotional, dramatic and, more importantly, quicker and brutal.

What's happening in Tamil Nadu is what psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud had famously called "transference". In this case, the transference of Jaya's leadership.

Both Sasikala and Deepa, through their divergent claims, are trying for a transfer of the people's "idealisation" of their leader. Sasikala thinks she can do it because she had dedicated her life towards Jaya, while Deepa considers it her ancestral right. Natarajan, Divakaran and the long list of family members also believe that they too have a right so that they can establish a family rule in perpetuity.

What's happening in Tamil Nadu is what psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud had famously called "transference". In this case, the transference of Jaya's leadership.

However, the funny part is all that the state has seen so far are only claims made from the top. Sasikala could easily take over the party and even the dissent to the claims of the family could be easily subverted by some ministers. Her writ over the party is complete. But, the power of transference is in the hands of the people. Do they have enough reasons to shift their idealisation of leadership and charisma in Jaya to her? That too, when Jaya herself had banished the Mannargudi family as long as she was alive.

Michael Maccoby, a popular American anthropologist and psychoanalyst who writes regularly in Harvard Business Review on leadership, makes an interesting point. According to him, the followers are described largely in terms of their leaders' qualities. "In other words, they're thought of as merely responding to a leader's charisma or caring attitude. What most analyses seem to ignore, though, is that followers have their own identity. His experience, he says is that "followers are as powerfully driven to follow as leaders are to lead."

According to him, followers' motivations fall into two categories—rational and irrational. The rational is about gaining personally from following a leader. Jaya's followers genuinely believed that they benefited from her welfare policies. In fact, Jaya had tailored them with such a design. The irrational motivations, however, "arise from the powerful images and emotions in our unconscious that we project onto our relationships with leaders."

In Dravidian politics, such a claim of leadership transference had never taken place, because the line of succession had always been clear. When MGR wasn't sure, he made his own party and wrote a legacy for himself.

Will Sasikala be able to tap into both these motivations? Forget the irrational part, what story will she tell them to tap their rational motivations? Will the story of sacrifice and the claimed political ancestry of her family backfire?

It's completely unpredictable. In Dravidian politics, such a claim of leadership transference had never taken place, because the line of succession had always been clear. When MGR wasn't sure, he made his own party and wrote a legacy for himself.

Needless to say, Deepa, in comparison is too meek. Probably, as reported, the BJP or some elements of the RSS, may be behind her to make political deals. She too faces the transference-challenges that Sasikala faces, but without the might of a state government, party networks and more importantly, resources. Although some quarters in the party do resent the present leadership and hence want to support Deepa, unless there is a major split, Sasikala's only uncertainty is if the people are sufficiently motivated to accept her as the legacy-holder of Jaya.

And it's a big uncertainty, bigger than many would assume.

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