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Cashing in on kinship

Regional parties in the south too have discovered the virtues of dynastic politics. Suresh Nambath details the scene.

ALTHOUGH REGIONAL parties in the south initially found the `dynastic politics' of the Congress an easy target in election-related rhetoric, over the years, they too have discovered its virtues.

Dynastic succession, which often helped the parties avoid acrimonious struggles at the top, not only served the needs of the leadership but also gave partymen involved in factional wars at the middle levels an independent conflict-resolution authority.

This was especially so in the case of personality-oriented parties that owed their electoral success among the unorganised poor and subaltern classes to the charisma of their leader. An undisputed mode of succession met the requirement of a unifying leadership that held together disparate elements of the party.

In Andhra Pradesh, after the death of the Telugu Desam Party founder, N.T. Rama Rao, his widow, Lakshmi Parvathi, and his son-in-law, N. Chandrababu Naidu, fought for the anti-Congress vote-bank he had established.

When in 1994 there was resentment in the party over the influence wielded by Lakshmi Parvathi in the NTR Government, Mr. Naidu was able to use his position as son-in-law to win the support of not only the rest of the family, but also of a majority of TDP functionaries and members of the State Legislative Assembly.

Given the nature of the sway NTR had over his vote-bank, it would have been difficult for anyone other than a member of his immediate family to challenge him. True, Mr. Naidu won the battle mostly due to the widespread perception that Lakshmi Parvathi had become an extra-constitutional authority in the NTR Government. But he was greatly aided by the equally widespread perception that he had emerged as an important member of the NTR family.

After NTR's death, Mr. Naidu demonstrated that he could extend his hold over the TDP to include the NTR vote-bank too in his grasp. In the 1996 general election, his party pushed the faction led by Lakshmi Parvathi out of the reckoning. This was achieved, in part, by contesting Lakshmi Parvathi's claims to being the rightful political heir of NTR.

Not surprisingly, NTR figures prominently even now in the TDP's publicity material. Party meetings are held with huge pictures of NTR in the backdrop. Mr. Naidu still has uses for the political legacy of NTR whom he displaced as Chief Minister. Indeed, he continues to derive political legitimacy from his being a part of the NTR family. The dynastic linkage gives the TDP leader an advantageous brand-identity.

In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is in a similar situation. Although the AIADMK general secretary, Jayalalithaa, is not in any way related to the party founder, M.G. Ramachandran, her ascension to the top slot is an interesting story. After the death of MGR in 1987, Ms. Jayalalithaa had to compete with his widow, Janaki Ramachandran, for recognition as his political successor. For this, she depended in large part on her status as a film heroine who starred opposite MGR. When the party split following the death of MGR, the Janaki faction obtained the support of a majority of the AIADMK MLAs. Although Ms. Jayalalithaa had a few supporters in the MGR Cabinet, they were mostly those who were opposed to the prominent names in the other faction. She had no real hold on the organisational structure of the party either. However, the future Chief Minister managed to project herself as the true inheritor of the political legacy of MGR. In the 1989 Assembly election, both the factions lost out to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam; but the Jayalalithaa faction did much better than the Janaki faction. This was enough again to polarise the votes between the AIADMK led by Ms. Jayalalithaa and the DMK.

If Ms. Jayalalithaa had lost at the first hurdle in 1989, the Janaki faction might have emerged as the party that consolidated the non-DMK vote. Thus for the two factions, the 1989 election was a fight against each other. Janaki Ramachandran even changed her name to Janaki MGR to evoke closer identification with the leader. But after Ms. Jayalalithaa finished ahead of the Janaki faction, the two factions came together. Janaki Ramachandran withdrew from the scene. And Ms. Jayalalithaa was recognised as the sole inheritor of the MGR political legacy. As in the case of the TDP, the AIADMK too reserves prime space for the party founder in all its campaign material.

Recent instances of dissidence in the AIADMK revolve around the influence of the family of N. Sasikalaa, a close friend of Ms. Jayalalithaa. Ms. Sasikalaa's nephew, T.T.V. Dinakaran, is an AIADMK member of the Lok Sabha, and a power centre by himself. But no one is even talking of a successor within the party to the 55-year-old Chief Minister.

The succession debate is more relevant for the DMK whose president, M. Karunanidhi, has already declared that he has fought his last election. Although the DMK is a cadre-based party enjoying support among the organised sections of the workforce, it too has slipped into the dynastic mode of succession. The party is grooming M.K. Stalin, son of Mr. Karunanidhi, as the next in line. However, in such parties the dynastic mode of succession is bound to be contested. This is exactly what happened when Mr. Vaiko, at present the general secretary of the breakaway Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, refused to recognise Mr. Stalin as the heir-apparent. Interestingly, the election of Mr. Karunanidhi as president of the DMK was entirely democratic. Although the DMK founder, C.N. Annadurai, wanted V.R. Nedunchezhiyan to succeed him, the party chose Mr. Karunanidhi.

Mr. Karunanidhi sees no problems with a son succeeding the father in a party post so long as democratic norms are adhered to. Indeed, he has justified dynastic succession as a natural way of ensuring continuity in the Dravidian movement. Thus brothers and sons of party leaders have been given the ticket to contest without their having to work all the way up through the ranks. Sometimes, it is a way of capitalising on the sympathy factor in the event of the death of a party leader. At other times, it is a way of ensuring that families of prominent leaders retain their stakes in the party.

The dynastic mode of succession is thus not limited to the top echelons of the DMK. Not only does a Minister's son become a Minister in due course, but so also does a district secretary's son become a district secretary and a panchayat union secretary's son a panchayat union secretary.

Similarly, in the State units of the Congress, the sons of prominent politicians climb up the ladder far quicker than others. G.K. Vasan, the son of G.K. Moopanar, is now the president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. But to Moopanar's credit, he did not actively encourage the grooming of his son despite pressure from some of the second line leaders.

In Karnataka, there has been no dynastic succession at the top, other than relatives of leaders being obliged with the party ticket.

But in Kerala, the former Chief Minister, K. Karunakaran, has promoted the cause of his children, K. Muraleedharan and Padmaja Venugopal. At his father's insistence, Mr. Muraleedharan was not only given the ticket for the Lok Sabha, but also made the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. Indeed, Mr. Karunakaran has often been accused of not only putting his faction's interests above those of his party, but also his family's interests above those of his faction. However, it must be said that Mr. Karunakaran has used his demands for accommodating his children or his loyalists in positions of power as a way of putting pressure on his political rival in the party, the Chief Minister, A.K. Antony. The differences between the two factions date back to the 1970s when Mr. Karunakaran was in the `I' group of Indira Gandhi loyalists and Mr. Antony was in the opposite camp.

Dynastic succession thus works differently for different parties. But for each party, it serves the interests of more than one family.

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