That historical night of February 7 was revealing in more ways than one. Moments after Chief Minister O Panneerselvam wound up his 40-minute meditation at Jayalalithaa’s memorial and came out with a stunning revolt against Sasikala, there was a surprising reaction from a Chinnamma-loyalist.
Perhaps for the first time ever, a Minister looked befuddled while addressing the media. “She is not our Chinnamma anymore. She is our Amma. We will see to it that she becomes the Chief Minister. There is no place for traitors in Tamil Nadu,” a visibly inebriated CV Shanmugam told the media outside Poes Garden that night, only to become a feisty subject for online trolls the next day.
That was perhaps the start. What is rolling out over the past few days and conveniently remains unnoticed amidst the unfolding political drama is how indecently low Tamil Nadu’s politics has stooped.
The State can hardly boast of decency in politics, but ever since Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, there appeared to be a wind of change, with DMK’s MK Stalin and AIADMK’s Panneerselvam as its harbingers. Apart from condoling the death of Jayalalithaa, Stalin and many other leaders of the DMK, heaped lavish praises on her. But it seems that change was short-lived.
“Tamil Nadu has no culture of political decency,” says Stalin Rajangam, Madurai based political analyst. “It is not just politics – our cinema has always made a joke of deeply personal issues like a person’s handicap or his work. Personal slander has been part of Tamil’s bhakthi literature. It is in the psyche of the common people. And political parties think it is easy to capture power by playing to the gallery, rather than reforming the people. The discourse of criticism in Tamil Nadu has largely been either casteist or chauvinist,” he says.
That perhaps explains why supporter after supporter outside the residence of Panneerselvam can easily accuse Sasikala of being an ‘ayah’, or a Sasikala loyalist could call Panneerselvam an ‘ungrateful dog.’
The abuses (mostly unpublishable) have not been stopping on either side. Slogans insulting both the protagonists are often met with applause. The same followers and leaders who sang praises of both Sasikala and OPS just last week are now happy showering abuses on them.
This ugly war of words has reached the television debate shows too, with leaders of both camps heaping abuses against each other and using disrespectful terms. They perhaps believe they can effectively catch the public imagination and drive home their point more aggressively if they do so. That they will be polluting the political discourse in the process is something they are not simply worried about.
A Tamil channel reporter says he dreads going live on air with voices of either camp, “We fear this more than the countless nights we have been spending gathering news since September. In a highly-charged situation like this, supporters tend to use unparliamentary words while being interviewed, and unless we intervene and say on air that we don’t endorse this, such interviews will show our channels in bad light. For many reporters, it is a very tricky situation.”
A regular on Tamil television channels, AIADMK’s Avadi Kumar made a remark in poor taste against the party’s estranged MP Sasikala Pushpa, who spoke against VK Sasikala, on a live show in a reputed Tamil channel. Though caught unaware, the anchor managed to tell him that such remarks were unacceptable, before cutting him off. Another one, Dheeran, reportedly told a Tamil channel in the aftermath of Panneerselvam’s revolt that true cadres like him will stay loyal to the party, even if not to their wives. These are just some examples.
This perhaps would be our biggest failure – that as a society we have collectively failed to change this flawed political narrative, or worse, have remained part of it. From revolutions in jallikattu to AIADMK, we choose to turn a blind eye to this discourse while celebrating the revolutionary aspects of it.
And as long as we continue to applaud a hero jeering a comedian for his looks, as long as we tuck away that secret tumbler in our kitchen-shelves meant only for house-helps, we are equally guilty of polluting this discourse – even if our shrill voices on social media root for a not-so-corrupt, down-to-earth leader.
Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.