Why Jayalalithaa gave Modi’s swearing-in a miss

angry-jayalalithaThe presence of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not the only reason why Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa stayed away from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa kept the nation waiting for a while before deciding to skip the historic swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jaya, like most other Tamil Nadu politicians, cited the invitation of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt ceremony, but the reasons in the case of each one of them could be many.

Having become used to seeing their leader draw the centre-stage in Delhi whenever she visited the national capital, party cadres would have been upset and demoralised to see ‘Amma’ as a one-in-five thousand crowd. After all, they too had worked alongside to hand over 37 Lok Sabha seats to her out of a total of 39 from the state.

As can be understood and appreciated, ‘Amma’ could not have afforded the cadres to feel that all their sweat and blood had gone waste. Their dreams of seeing her in the prime ministerial gaddi have ended up with not even in an alliance-taker of the P V Narasimha Rao (1991) and the A B Vajpayee (1998) coalition kind from the past.

Worse still for the party, the ministerial drought at the Centre for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam would continue possibly for five years more. It started after Jayalalithaa abruptly withdrew support to the Vajpayee Government in 1999, leading to its collapse and fresh elections to the Lok Sabha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the cynosure of every news camera on Monday evening, and possibly from the world over. It could have been Jaya’s day too if there was a coalition government — and possibly her own, instead, if cadre hopes and pollster-predictions of a possible third front government had materialised.

In the event, Jaya, even if offered a front row seat, would have still come second, third or further down in the pecking order, as the Rashtrapati Bhavan’s warrant of precedence would have commanded. In this case, state chief ministers, including those from the Bharatiya Janata Party and National Democratic Alliance partners like Telugu Desam Party’s N Chandrababu Naidu, found themselves seated in the third or the fourth row, behind sadhus andsanyasis.

With Tamil Nadu down the line at 24 in the alphabetical order of state names, Jayalalithaa might have been placed a couple of more rows behind — unless someone in the PMO or the BJP had taken care not to upset a non-existing apple-cart.

In this case, the Tamil Nadu CM would have been seated not only inconspicuously, she would have also been placed way behind President Rajapaksa. Protocol required that the visitor had a front-row seat. Even if deliberate, TV cameras thus could not have avoided Mahinda with his physique and in his eye-blinding white with trade-mark maroon satta/shawl falling from his shoulders. Not only the AIADMK cadres but even other pan-Tamil groups and sympathisers back in Tamil Nadu, however supportive of Jayalalithaa’s leadership of their larger ‘Tamil causes’, would have felt uneasy at such a sight.

Such a sight could have only given the first post-poll handle for the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to target her, after the party had suffered a severe and wholly unexpected drubbing in the LS elections. Other rivals might demur, not knowing, how things would — and would have to work — for them in the state assembly polls two years hence. But the DMK’s ageing and exhausted patriarch, M Karunanidhi, would have gone all out — particularly after some Sri Lankan Tamil parties and groups are now ready to crown Jayalalithaa as the ‘uncrowned empress’ of the global Tamil clan.

Karunanidhi could not stomach it when the imaginary crown passed on purportedly from him to the LTTE’s Prabhakaran without anyone noticing, a decade or two back. Now, he could not stomach/afford it coming back to Tamil Nadu, but to adorn some head other than his, that too almost for good, given his advancing age and declining political fortunes.

Unlike Jayalalithaa, who is also often referred to in the local and national media as a personal friend of the new prime minister, Karunanidhi and his DMK have nothing to lose by giving the Delhi ceremony a miss. Though at one stage, in the early days of alliance-making for the polls, Karunanidhi had described Modi as his ‘good friend’. They had hardly met but once at a Delhi conference of CMs — no one missed either him or his party at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, it would seem.

The DMK has drawn a huge blank in the LS polls. After the Supreme Court verdict that judicially-convicted persons could not hold elected office, thus disqualifying T M Selvaganapathy, like Bihar’s Lalu Prasad Yadav before him, the DMK is left with three members in the Rajya Sabha. Among them is Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, re-elected last year for a second term, in a total of 17 from the state. In the normal course, the three alone would have received the routine invitation for the swearing-in.

The Mahinda episode having provided the reason, justification and/or excuse for all TN parties, including former Union minister G K Vasan of the Congress, to take potshots at the new government at the Centre, the most regional parties starting with the high-profile AIADMK could choose not to send their MPs for the swearing-in sans their respective leaders. The DMK too could not have done anything else, given Karunanidhi’s longer and more strident pan-Tamil politics running to seven long decades and more.

In this case, both Jayalalithaa and Kanimozhi had corruption cases against them coming up in Delhi courts only hours earlier on the day of Modi’s swearing-in. Appearing in the Enforcement Directorate case in the larger 2G scam before the trial court, Kanimozhi sought bail along with then DMK telecom minister A Raja, now trounced in the Lok Sabha polls by his AIADMK rival. Karunanidhi’s ageing and ailing wife Dayalu, sought and obtained exemption from personal appearance from the Delhi court.

On Jaya’s interlocutory petition in the ‘disproportionate assets case’ pending before a Bangalore trial court from her first term (1991-96), the vacation bench of the Supreme Court, which also was headed by the same judge otherwise hearing her case, granted a stay of the relevant proceedings till June 6, entailing a further delay. The court had frowned on the ‘delaying tactics’ of the defence, on another procedural issue relating to the Bangalore court and case, brought before it by the defence.

Under the circumstances, it would have been embarrassing for all concerned, if in either of the cases, or both, the respective courts had passed adverse orders — or, even oral observations — against the petitioner-leaders concerned. If they were then to appear in Modi’s swearing-in, there would have been palpable and even more avoidable embarrassment all around. It would have become worse if some nosy TV news crew were to put up the mike and camera before them for comments on the court proceedings of the day.

If in Jaya’s case, her second-line leaders would have also missed the usual retinue of CPM and CPI leaders calling on her at Delhi. Their consolation — and the ‘miss’ hence — could be that the other two present-day ‘giant killers’ in national politics, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, too chose to ignore the ‘Modi darbar’. But that was only a small consolation, considering that Jaya had missed out possibly greeting and meeting her friend of a prime minister even minutes, or hours, before the ‘adversary’ from across the Palk Strait, whom she has anyway not seen face-to-face even once.

If so much for indomitable Jayalalithaa giving the Modi swearing-in the miss, less said about lesser political mortals in the state, the better. For Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Vaiko, too, Mahinda provided the handle, not only to stay away from the Modi show, he having lost in his native Sivakasi constituency of his own choosing – for the second time in a row, and in the BJP’s NDA company this time. There was no chance that the BJP could have played along with motivated Tamil media plants to make a non-party NDA ally from the electoral past a Rajya Sabha MP from one of the party-ruled states, and reward him with a ministerial berth in advance.

Not that the Modi leadership, keen to improve ties with the neighbours for starters, would have been able to countenance Vaiko’s pan-Tamil, anti-Sri Lanka stance, propelled and propagated as it has been by the separatism-centric Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, beyond a point. By courting arrest against Mahinda’s invitation and visit in Delhi, Vaiko can now hope to revive the sagging morale of his residual party cadres. It is highly doubtful if that would also help revive his sagged-out political career, ministerial hopes at the Centre and one-time chief ministerial ambitions, too.

Less said about the BJP’s PMK ally, founded by Dr S Ramadoss, whose son Dr Anbumoni was the only NDA candidate to win an LS seat (from Dharmapuri), apart from BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan (Kanyakumari). On Monday in Delhi, Radhakrishnan alone was sworn-in as a minister of state by President Pranab Mukherjee. Anbumani’s non-inclusion in the ministry reportedly owes to the pending criminal case against him in the ‘medical college recognition case’ during his UPA-1 innings as health minister with a Cabinet rank, when corruption charges against Dr Ketan Desai, then president of the Medical Council of India, hit the nation on its face.

The BJP is also unhappy that Ramadoss Sr and the latter’s close aides had almost not campaigned at all for alliance-partners, miffed as the senior was about more seats being given to the new-found DMDK ally of the BJP under actor-politician Vijakant than his PMK. In the process, the DMDK drew a huge blank in all 14 seats it had squeezed out of the BJP-NDA, like the MDMK, which happily settled for half that number but without quibbling or quarrelling.

Yet, Modi seemed to have had a word of praise for Vijaykant and his wife Premalatha, for their effective campaigning for all NDA partners at the parliamentary group meeting where he was formally named the prime minister nominee. The local media has reported that the BJP would have the likes of DMDK to merge with the party, for Vijaykant possibly to lead the NDA in the state assembly polls of 2016. Newly-inducted minister Radhakrishnan as the BJP state president has since sent out an open invitation for all small parties (no names mentioned) to consider merging with the larger,  national ally.

However, Radhakrishnan being given only an MoS post when the state has given a total 18.5 per cent vote-share to the BJP-NDA (though only two MPs), more than four times the national-level Congress rival’s vote-share and only a fourth less than the mainline DMK rival of the ruling AIADMK has not gone unnoticed. That Radhakrishnan was MoS even under Vajpayee and has not even been given ‘Independent’ charge this time, when first-time MPs have been conferred the honour, too has been noticed. Though not in his circles and in the state BJP, in due course, they too will have questions to answer from political rivals, friends and the local media, alike on that score.

In the final analysis, the politicians’ boycott of the Mahinda-attended Modi swearing-in ceremony could not be criticised over much, considering that Indian cinema’s superstar Rajnikanth too stayed away, as did the other star, Vijay. Rajni’s family however honoured the invitation and attended the Delhi function, it is reported. It was the kind of decision/risk that the superstar cold not have missed, given past experience of actors like Vijay and Ajith, whose films came under release-pressure, both nearer home and more so overseas, where Tamil films have a rich and regular market in SL Tamil diaspora communities in particular.

Rajni just now has his multi-million Kochchadaiyan real-life animation film, on the screen for less than a week, and could not have afforded the risk. Vijay having burnt his fingers earlier and still having his films alternating between super-success and super-failure, too could not have afforded to risk a repeat, now or later. Yet, Rajnikanth fans at least could take heart in the post-result SMS that went viral, like all other ‘superstar’ quips, particularly from around the release of his block-busterRobot (Enthiran in Tamil) in 2010: ‘How did Modi win big? Because Rajni hugged him when the latter called on him, for blessings and support ahead of the polls…’

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation.

N Sathiya Moorthy