This is beyond nonsense, a calamitous event that can happen only in Incredible India.
When Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy (Chief Minister of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh) died in a helicopter crash the other day, the 60-year-old politician, may his soul rest in peace, took with him not merely his four co-passengers.
Alas, Reddy took with him 30 other people at last count (Update: some SI readers put the toll now at 67 and others as high as 120).
Isn’t it reminiscent of the ancient Pharaohs, whose tombs sometimes included many of their close followers.
Indian media reports have it that 30 people ranging in age from 20-70 died of various causes in the aftermath of Rajasekhara Reddy’s death.
Some committed suicide by consuming pesticide. God, what a way to go.
Not the First
Rajasekhara Reddy is not the first Indian leader to take with him a bunch of followers and most certainly won’t be the last.
So what is it in the Indian political culture that brings about the death of so many people following a leader’s death.
When M.G.Ramachandra,a.k.a. MGR, the Chief Minister of the neighboring state of Tamil NaduÂ died in December 1987 following a long illness, 30 followers committed suicide (some by self-immolation) and lakhs shaved their heads (an act usually done by devout Hindus after the death of their parents).
The death of followers accompanying the demise of their leaders is a depressing reality and sad reflection on the Indian polity.
Indian political institutions are notoriously weak despite 62 years of self-rule after the departure of the British colonial power in 1947.
Political structures in India like the national Parliament or State Legislative Assemblies are effective in name only.
While de jure political power seems decentralized in India, political power de facto is highly centralized and concentrated in the hands of a few individuals or groups.
At the center, political power usually resides in the person of the Congress party leader (usually a member of the Nehru family) and a small coterie and at the regional level in the hands of the Chief Minister.
Benefits for the masses in the Indian political system do not flow through established institutions or the bureaucracy as they legitimately should but are often routed in patronage fashion by the leaders to reward their followers through parallel extra-constitutional networks/channels.
So a leader’s death is often perceived as a personal calamity by followers with deadly consequences (literally) for some of them.
Will things change?
Not any time soon.
You see, notwithstanding all the incessant uproar that India has arrived the truth is India is a weak polity. Forget arriving,Â the Indian train has yet to even leave the station.
Hey, what’s that disturbing noise out there?
Must be YSR’s followers shouting Mera Bharat Mahaan.