Opportunity has been called “thou strong seducer”. From A. Raja to B. S. Yeddyurappa, from the Bengal communists to the UPA-2 high commanders, they have all allowed opportunity to seduce them. Which is a pity because opportunity is also a provider of inspiration for great and noble work.
Following the recent assembly elections, three states saw historically significant regime changes. How are the novice chief minister in Bengal and the veterans in Tamil Nadu and Kerala using their newly-won moment in history? It is barely a month since they took charge. Yet, a tentative appraisal is possible based on first impressions.
Mamata Bannerji, because of her inexperience in state governance and the unpredictabilities of her mood and behaviour, had caused the maximum apprehensions. But she seems to have given the best first impressions. She began with herself, trying to look less unkempt and less temperamental. (The importance of appearance in this television age cannot be over-emphasised. Every time Baba Ramdev is seen walking to his jet, there must be multitudes who wish he wore a shirt. Shapurji Saklatvala, a Labour member of the British House of Commons in the 1930s, once told Mahatma Gandhi at a meeting in London: “For heaven's sake, Gandhi, wear a pair of trousers”).
Mamata's approach to governance also showed a touch of freshness. Although her attack of the CPM is relentless, she seemed anxious to show that she had put old enmities behind her. One of her first acts as Chief Minister was to call on arch critic Somnath Chatterji in his house. Imagine Jayalalitha going to the Gopalpuram residence of Karunanidhi.
The new chief minister's most promising initiatives have been with respect to choosing ministers and advisers. This was clear during the election campaign itself when she reached out to non-politicos with party tickets. Beyond the cabinet, she has also organised an advisory council consisting of experts from several fields. This means that the new Government will have the benefit of guidance from non-party, non-political specialists. It also shows that the chief minister wants to listen to experts, and not just carry on as a party animal.
The chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been war-horses for too long to be not party animals. Even so, Jayalalitha has the greatest opportunity among all chief ministers. She wields the most power as she is unhindered by allies or by rivals in the party. She is also experienced and intelligent with an administrative acumen recognised by all. She has in her the faculties to become the architect of a new Tamil Nadu and the builder of a new India.
Two factors have stood in the way of fulfilling this promise – a tendency towards vindictive politics and a tendency to listen to no one. Both can be overcome by recognising her own strengths. The Karunanidhi family has been in a state of self-destruct. She could afford to leave it alone and appear graceful in the process. As for the loner posture,there are some new faces in the cabinet. Nothing will be lost -- and a lot gained – if some able ministers are allowed to speak for themselves instead of the unvarying “Amma-speak”.She has also engaged an outside adviser: Ponraj who played a similar role for A.P.J.Abdul Kalam when he was President. If memories of the earlier “kitchen cabinet” are also given a go-by, we may finally see Jayalalitha coming into her own.
Unfortunately Kerala raises no such hopes. A historically thin majority should have made the Congress alliance cautious. Instead, it gave ministerial posts to a host of tainted politicians with a history of corruption. The Muslim League's president even resorted to the unheard-of tactic of announcing portfolios; the hapless Chief Minister pretended he saw and heard nothing unusual. Kerala is set for a new era of plundering – if the Government lasts with its 2-seat majority. The Congress should be grateful that Achutanandan and the CPM are not Yeddyurappa and the BJP. Such is democracy.