The growing intolerance of regional satraps



The other day a colleague of mine in Tamil Nadu said, “Amma should become the Prime Minister of the country post 2014 general elections. She has the iron hand to set everything and everyone right in the country brimming with an irrepressible multitude of people and politicians.” I asked him how and pat came the reply, “She will not tolerate any nonsense from anyone. Your young chief minister was here the other day. He sounded quite gung-ho on his arrival but left Tamil Nadu quietly after his meeting with her. She must have told him to share only with his father what transpired between them.”

That reminded me of the times when the survival of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had rested on three firebrand women chieftains, Mamata Bannerjee, Mayawati and Jaylalitha. His super-talents were at display every day keeping the three mercurial regional satraps in humour. But not all leaders have the same wisdom or skills that Vajpayee had.

Somehow over a decade the regional satraps have acquired larger than life status across India. Even in the Congress ruled states, it’s not the Gandhi’s magic that works anymore; it’s the local face like we recently saw in Karnataka where people opted for a lesser evil.

In a way it’s good to have regional leadership at the helms as they are well attuned to the needs of their respective areas. But that in no way gives them licence to become contemporary feudal lords in whose territory no one can interfere.

Let’s take Karnataka where BS Yeddyurappa refused to accept his party high command’s decision to step down and had to be eventually sacked. Both he and his erstwhile party paid the price and that too quite a heavy one. Congress won the state despite the taints of corruption.

Nitish Kumar has done wonders for Bihar, but if I could catch the straws in the winds blowing from the neighbouring state, his intolerance levels are growing. Vijay Bahuguna in the sibling state of Uttarakhand is known to be brusque despite the sense of humour that he has. Mamata Bannerjee, all know, believe that West Bengal is her bastion no one should meddle with. Mayawati toed the same line but fortunately, young Akhilesh doesn’t carry a swollen head and is open to suggestions. Just as there is nothing negative emanating from Madhya Pradesh where Shivraj Singh is holding the baton, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have little positive to share when it comes to the fiefdom culture.

Having said so, I sometimes wonder what the right path is in a democratic set-up. Of course decentralisation of power is said to be the best option. Can we say so when the regional satraps turn autocrat?

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  • http://twitter.com/YoavKarny Yoav Karny

    Very well put.

    A lesson from the final days of the Soviet Union may be a useful illustration: liberalization and a measure of decentralization at the center brought about a very uneven democratization federally twenty-odd years ago.

    Some republics did democratize, others fell under the thumb of absolute rulers. With no center to defer to they have been free to establish permanent government, uncontested, potentially bequeathed to siblings.

    Look at Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan — the poster boys of de-democratization in post-Soviet space. Same regime, often same faces, under the guise of a nominal democracy.

    To assume that certain states of India would go the same way in a weakened federal system may not be an exaggeration.

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