India's coalition felled by first lady of misrule

THE 13-MONTH-OLD Indian government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell by a single vote yesterday, and all because of an almost spherical lady politician named Jayalalitha.

For Indian journalists, the former movie queen with the very pale skin and the genteel English accent, who has 10,500 saris and 350 pairs of shoes and whose twinkling gold cape and sari conceals (it is rumoured) a bullet-proof vest, has long been a source of innocent merriment.

Ever since the BJP took office, however, Jayaram Jayalalitha has been a disaster waiting to happen, and yesterday disaster duly arrived. The 18 MPs loyal to Ms Jayalalitha's party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham Party, had been a vital part of the fragile coalition when it was formed in March last year. But right from the start she threatened trouble, besieging the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, with extravagant demands.

Last week she did what she had so long threatened and pulled the plug, informing President K R Narayanan that she was withdrawing her party's support from the government. Yesterday, despite days spent negotiating with an assortment of minority parties, the government lost a crucial vote of confidence in parliament by a single vote. Over the next few days it will become clear whether India must go through yet another general election nobody wants.

For this state of affairs, Ms Jayalalitha is squarely to blame. The faults of Mr Vajpayee's government have been many and glaring. With its supporters in the paranoid Hindu right, its rampant militarism, its winking at the unprecedented wave of violence against Christians, it has been in many ways a sinister administration. But it gave India something which compensated for most of its failings: the beginnings of stability, consistency and coherence.

Its predecessor, the ludicrously mis-named United Front (UF) government, comprising a rabble of bickering minority parties, never got that far. But Mr Vajpayee's government, dominated by his own BJP, with allies like Ms Jayalalitha relegated to the sidelines, had the vital ingredient of coherence which the UF government lacked. It wasn't pretty, but at least it was going somewhere.

Ms Jayalalitha's strike last week, in contrast, marks the triumph of all that is negative and destructive in Indian politics: the triumph of petty regionalism over national interest, the triumph of greed and corruption over legal and political process, and the apotheosis of a personality cult that is grotesque by any standards.

Revolutionary Leader, Walking Goddess, Primordial Power, Mother - the forms by which Ms Jayalalitha is required to be addressed are many, but all emphasise the near-mythical, god-like dimension of the stature she enjoys in her base in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Starting where her late mentor and lover, the film star turned politician M G Ramachandran left off, she owed her early success to the awe in which she was held by the uneducated masses who flocked to the films in which she starred.

Screened by awe and mystification, she abused power in the immemorial way of sleazy Indian politicians. While chief minister, it is alleged, she embezzled tens of millions of rupees in kickbacks.

When she fell from power in the state in 1995, her successor ensured that she was put on trial for her crimes, and she has already spent time in prison before her bail came through. Her party's participation in the national government had two principal aims: to have the cases against her quashed, and the present government of Tamil Nadu dismissed.

Mr Vajpayee's government compliantly ensured that her corruption cases will meander through the justice system for a long time yet. But her rival's government remains in place in Madras. Ms Jayalalitha pulled out of Mr Vajpayee's coalition because she saw it becoming imperilled, with Congress growing more aggressive, and she wanted to be well placed to make her mark on the next administration.

What happens next is far from clear. Ms Jayalalitha is too tainted and unpredictable to make a tempting coalition partner for Congress, even if she swallows her objection to a "foreigner" - the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi - ruling India. The "third force" looks even weaker and more fragmented than before. The uncertainty will persist for some time - and presiding over it, India's first lady of misrule.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee