Chinnamma playing remote-control TN game from Bengaluru jail

TAMIL NADU NEWSLETTER

Ramaswami Sampath

Ramaswami Sampath

CHENNAI: It is all over! And it is going to be the benami reign of ‘Clhinnamma’ in Tamil Nadu. Sasikala Natarajan, the interim general secretary of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who is ‘Chinnamma’ to her followers, will be watching Tamil Nadu as ‘Big Sister’ – with due apologies to George Orwell – from a Bengaluru prison where she has been lodged after having been convicted of corruption by the Supreme Court in the notorious disproportionate assets case. 

In fact, she watched Saturday’s violent proceedings of the State Assembly on the confidence vote issue, telecast by Jaya TV, from a cell in the Parappana Agrahara prison! Her crony Edapadi Palaniswami, whom she nominated as Chief Minister and leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party, won the vote 122-11, with the en bloc eviction of the opposition DMK MLAs and walk-out by their Congress colleagues from the House.

Since the demise of AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa on December 5 last, Tamil Nadu has been witness to tumultuous developments. Past midnight the same day, O. Panneerselvam, finance minister, was sworn-in as the Chief Minister (for the third time in his political career). Even as he was managing well the affairs of the government for nearly two months amid trying circumstances, all of a sudden he was asked to quit the post in favour of Sasikala which he did. The stage had been set, everybody thought, for her elevation as the CM, and she staked claim before acting Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao. But two days later, Panneerselvam went to the ‘Amma Samadhi’ on the Marina and sat in meditation for about 40 minutes after which he threw the bombshell that his resignation was taken under duress by Sasikala’s cohorts, derisively called the ‘Mannargudi mafia’, and declared that he was withdrawing his resignation, notwithstanding its acceptance by the Governor.

With both the camps pressing their claims, the Governor stood his ground that he would await the apex court judgment on the disproportionate assets case against the late CM, Sasikala and two others, before taking a decision. Though his stand was criticised by opposition parties as facilitating horse-trading, the Supreme Court verdict, which convicted her and the co-accused, while abating the sentence of Jayalalithaa, justified the Governor’s action. The State was thus spared of the discomfiture of swearing-in a convict-in-waiting as CM.

Sasikala was unfazed and contrived the herding of nearly 130 MLAs, who had earlier elected her as the leader, into a seaside resort near Mahabalipuram, about 80 km. from Chennai. And her vice-like grip on them, despite some of them managing to sneak out to the Panneerselvam camp, had ensured Palaniswami’s winning the ‘trust vote’ in the House, which faced violent incidents, reminiscent of the ugly scenes 29 years ago after the demise of MG Ramachandran when the two factions led by MGR Janaki and Jayalalithaa came to blows.

When Speaker P. Dhanapal asked Palaniswami to move the confidence motion, Leader of the Opposition MK Stalin appealed for a secret ballot for the floor test. He was supported by the Congress and the pro-Panneerselvam group.  When the Speaker rejected the plea, there was pandemonium in the House with DMK MLAs toppling his podium and wrenching the mike. The House was adjourned twice on this count. Before resuming the session at 3 p.m., the Speaker ordered that the DMK MLAs be bundled out of the House. Thanks to the action of the House marshals, it became easy for Palaniswami to carry the day.

While the CM’s camp is gloating over its victory, Panneerselvam does not accept defeat and says that people are with him. “I will go to the people’s court and get justice, and the eclipse of ‘Dharma’ by ‘Adharma’ would end soon,” he proclaims. The other opposition parties are also not happy with the Speaker’s refusal for a secret ballot, and aver that at least a sizeable chunk of MLAs were forced to vote against their free will. Non-political personalities like Kamal Hassan ridicule the way the Assembly was held to ransom, and want people to assert themselves. Social media networks are abuzz with hostile comments on the victory of Palaniswami and wonder how his MLAs would face their electorate which is certainly not amused. Some have suggested that the Speaker’s action should be scrutinised by the court. The litmus test for Palaniswami would be his ability to win the impending by-election in the RK Nagar (Chennai) constituency caused by Jayalalithaa’s death. The spectre of the forthcoming polls to local self-government bodies is also staring at him.

On the party front, Sasikala has created the post of deputy secretary to manage the affairs and anointed her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who was expelled from the party by Jayalalithaa for his interference in government machinery. For all practical purposes, Dhinakaran will be the boss, and Palaniswami has been told in so many words to consult him on policy matters. Thus Sasikala will remote-control the party and the government. It is a moot point how long this arrangement will last, since the Election Commission has issued a notice to her to show cause how she could become the general secretary of the party. This notice is based on a complaint lodged by the Panneerselvam group stating that Sasikala cannot be the general secretary as she was expelled from the party by Jayalalithaa and that she does not fulfill the condition of five years continuous membership of party since her re-induction. In case the EC upholds the contention of her rivals, she would cease to be general secretary and all her subsequent appointments will be void.

Meanwhile, there have been expulsions galore by rival camps, splitting the party vertically. Sasikala expelled Panneerselvam, former minister ‘Ma Foi’ Pandiarajan, party presidium chairman E. Madhusudhanan and MPs and MLAs supporting the former CM. Madhusudhanan on his part has expelled Sasikala and some of her associates from the party. In this welter of confusion, the future of Tamil Nadu politics is anybody’s guess.

Tailpiece: According to informed sources, Governor Vidyasagar Rao is planning to write a book on the happenings in the State from Jayalalithaa’s illness to the ascension of Palaniswami as CM.

The writer is a Senior Journalist and Primepost Associate from Chennai

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