Realpolitik lessons from Donald Trump and Sasikala Natarajan

W
hat is the meaning of REALPOLITIK? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations. Rulers, diplomats and intellectuals/scholars who have spoken about or/and practiced it include Thucydides, Kautilya, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Otto von Bismark, Henry Kissinger and many more.

The list just gets too long. If the list itself is this long, then one can imagine what it would take to read the works/lives of all these people and understand them.

However, nature has been kind. The world churns up circumstances from which some realpolitik lessons can be extracted. Of late, by studying simply the political lives of two politicians namely Donald Trump and Sasikala Natarajan, a few lessons can be learnt. Before that a brief introduction about the two personalities is necessary. For Sasikala Natarajan, it might be valid. However, if someone thinks that it is difficult to believe that someone would not have heard of Donald Trump, then he/she can be looked upon with empathy!!! Still an introduction ought to be given.

Donald Trump was the fourth child of New York real estate tycoon Fred Trump. While assisting his father, he realised that there were aspects that he did not like about his father’s job like rent-collection, physical labour. It was at this point of time that he decided to get involved in real-estate, but at a much higher scale than his father had ever been. He studied at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Gradually, he became a real estate tycoon and his assets include the famous Trump towers on Manhattan’s fifth Avenue, 555 California Street (which is San Fransisco’s second tallest building), Trump Building which is a 71 storey skyscraper in New York etc. After a failed attempt to run for the US presidency for the 2000 elections, on June 16 2015, Donald J Trump announced that he would be running for the Presidency on a Republican ticket. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sasikala Natarajan, on the other hand, hails from Mannargudi which is a town in Tiruvarur district of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. She was a video shop owner in the 1980s. She was introduced to Jayalalitha by her husband Natarajan through Chandralekha, the then District Collector of Cuddalore. Immediately she caught the attention of Jayalalitha. Consequently, she moved in to the Jayalalitha residence at Poes Garden. She had been living with Jayalalitha ever since. When Jayalalitha first became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991, she ruled the roost from the background. Subsequently, this led to more controversies than rewards. After Jayalalitha passed away on December 5, she was instrumental in installing O Paneer Selvam (OPS) as the Chief Minister of the state.

Lesson # 1 - The perils of Secrecy

Donald Trump’s biggest asset, many believe, is he speaks his mind. He does not have one thing in the mind and speak an entirely different thing. That is the reason why even his objectionable remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, Women etc which would have been labelled ‘atrocious’ and the person would have been censured heavily were they uttered by any other person, were tolerated. In spite of these and many other highly controversial remarks, people voted for him. Many who voted for Trump believed that when compared to the Washington establishment which forever had masks up on their faces, Trump was a welcome change.

In contrast, Sasikala Natarajan is said to be extremely secretive. No one in the public domain has even heard her speak. However, she possessed an enormous clout in the party affairs of the AIADMK. Party men lined up in queues to meet her and get her support in order to get the election tickets. As a result of this secrecy, she found the going to be really tough. When Jayalalitha was admitted in the hospital, no proper updates were given about her health for most of the time. No videos or photographs were released which would have gone a long way in stabilising the chaos that prevailed. This might create some obstacles in her political career.

Hence Lesson # 1 – ‘It does not pay to be too secretive in politics’

Lesson # 2 – The three laws of earning money

Everyone wants to become rich. The only people who do not want to become rich are the people who are lying about it by saying that they are happily poor. There are three ways to earn money. The first law to make money is to flex the government rules and regulations and thus make/save the hard-earned buck. The second is to become utterly dishonest, corrupt and earn the money without caring about the means by which it is earned. Taking the example of Donald Trump, there are rumours that he has not paid taxes. Donald Trump has done nothing refute this. But there is also a theory that he might have taken advantage of tax-code provisions that allow him to report negative incomes. If he has done that, legal experts say that there is nothing illegal about that. But whether he has done that or not can only be known by looking at his income tax returns which he has not done till date.

About Sasikala, one of the cases that are still pending against her is the disproportionate assets case that took 18 years to complete. The contents of the case state that Jayalalitha, as Chief Minister between 1991 and 1996, acquired over Rs 63 crore in wealth disproportionate to her known sources of income. Sasikala and her family members Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran, were accused of being part of the conspiracy. While Jayalalitha has passed away, the law is very much applicable to the other three. The accusations against Sasikala belong to the second route to earn money.

Hence Lesson # 2 – ‘If you want to earn money, do it through the first law of earning money rather than the second law of earning money’

By the way, since the third law of earning money has not been mentioned, here it is ‘Stick to being honest and stay poor’. After all, honesty comes about only because one lacks the opportunity to be dishonest.....

Lesson # 3 – The speed of action

Trump’s pace in filling up his cabinet has been impressive. He made his first cabinet appointment Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General on November 18, earlier than most recent ex-presidents. President Obama’s first pick was officially announced on November 24. Bill Clinton’s first appointment came 37 days later. According to a count by the Washington Post, since 1980, only two of the 70 cabinet announcements by five newly elected presidents had been made by November 17. Both these picks were by George H W Bush. Donald Trump has impressed many with his speed in filling up his cabinet till now.

Here Sasikala too comes up to the mark? When the news of Jayalalitha passing away at around 23.30 hrs was announced, Sasikala proved that she was an able mediator and ensured that a consensus was reached among all the Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs). Thus O Paneerselvam took oath as Chief Minister at around 01.15 hrs on December 6. She also ensured that by continuing the status quo in regards to the appointments of ministers, there was no scope for fresh rounds of confusion.

Thus comes Lesson # 3 – “At times, it is important to act quickly and decisively”

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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