Considering that elected governments and its leaders use public money to supposedly enhance their popularity among the ‘masses’, Stalin’s decision to forego such a ‘privilege’ is commendable.

 

It is not surprising that two acts of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin last month went largely unnoticed, rather ignored, in today’s India.In the first instance, Stalin told his education minister not to print his (Stalin’s) photographs on 65 lakh bags meant for distribution among school children in the state. Second, Stalin told a fellow MLA not to waste his time praising the Chief Minister while participating in a discussion on animal husbandry in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. Both these actions were absolutely out of sync with the “new normal” in India.

The schoolbags, which were custom-made for distribution during the time of the previous government, carried the photographs of AIADMK leader, the late J. Jayalalithaa and the former Chief Minister, E. Palaniswamy.

To print the photographs of the leaders on the bags was considered a normal practice. Discarding those bags and making fresh ones with photographs of Stalin would have cost the exchequer a minimum of Rs 18 crore. So Stalin’s government decided to distribute the old bags, irrespective of the photographs.

Considering that elected governments and its leaders use public money to supposedly enhance their popularity among the “masses”, Stalin’s decision to forego such a “privilege” is commendable.

All the more, coming from Stalin the act is exceptional as he was born and brought up in a culture where larger than life cut-outs on display even in front of his or her own house are considered absolutely normal.

Praising a leader in his or her presence is also not new in Tamil Nadu politics, at least from the time Jayalalithaa came into prominence on the Tamil political scene inheriting the legacy of her political mentor, the legendary MGR. When she was alive, AIADMK Members of Parliament used to carry her photographs on their person. “Amma” never discouraged them from doing so.

Though such blatant acts of sycophancy were not encouraged during the time of Stalin’s father, the late Karunanidhi, the changed scenario in the country itself might have prompted DMK legislators, too, to toe the line and sing paeans for the new leader. By openly saying “I have already instructed DMK members not to praise me and that I will take action against them if they do. The members should use the allocated time judiciously,” Stalin has indeed set a new ball game rolling.

Mouthing hymns of praise and wasting reams of newsprint eulogising a certain leader have become the norm. Day after day, the disease of sycophancy is spreading its tentacles, cutting across party lines. In Bengal, Trinamool Congress is no exception. It is common for party leaders to attribute success to any programme implemented in the state to their leader Mamata Banerjee.

It is indeed worth considering how much time our elected representatives, especially in Parliament, could devote to issues concerning the man on the street if they stopped praising a particular leader for anything and everything. The leader concerned generally never discourages them from doing so in his very presence. And so the bandwagon of cheerleaders moves on unhindered.

However much we as a nation try to downplay the two acts by Stalin, the leader of the political party with the emblem of a rising sun has made an emphatic statement: we may see a different sun rising on our bleak political horizon.

It is an eye opener for other parties such as the CPM which is in power in neighbouring Kerala where old-time communists are complaining about the growing personality cult in the party. The current Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan as CPM state secretary not so long ago had shot down attempts by followers of his one-time arch rival in the party, veteran V.S. Achuthanandan, to print election posters with VS’s pictures. Today the same Vijayan beams at you from newspaper advertisements, hoardings and posters not only across his own state but also in states such as Gujarat. Recently, photographs of Vijayan’s son-in-law who is minister for tourism in the new ministry started appearing in TV advertisements ostensibly to promote tourism in God’s own country.

A few years back one would have wondered what the minister’s smiling photograph has to do with promotion of tourism in that state, but not now. These days even party representatives credit their leader with providing enough food to the people of the state, as if the public should be grateful to them.

How quickly we have forgotten that it is the duty of elected governments to provide adequate food for the needy. Stalin by his act tells us we must think otherwise. Already precious time has been lost and Opposition leaders would do well to emulate the rising son in Tamil Nadu.