Dual control of ruling party throws TN politics into a flux
TAMIL NADU NEWSLETTER
CHENNAI: Though it is two months since the passing away of J. Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu is still feeling the political vacuum created by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo. But the scenario has opened up several interesting possibilities. The ruling party is now under dual control with O. Panneerselvam being the Chief Minister and VK Sasikala, the “soul sister” of the departed leader, holding the crucial post of party general secretary. Amma, as Jayalalithaa was revered by party members, had held both the positions – in fact, she used to be hailed as the permanent general secretary of the party!
Though Panneerselvam has become the CM for the third time – he held the post for shorter periods earlier when Jayalalithaa had to step down due to court intervention on two occasions – he appears unsure of his grip over the administrative apparatus. Despite his quiet way of governance, he is under pressure from his own colleagues and party MPs to yield place to ‘Chinnamma’, as Sasikala is fondly addressed now by her loyalists.
The foremost voice in the chorus in favour of Sasikala to be the CM is Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M. Thambidorai. Most ministers and MLAs are kowtowing to Sasikala, as none wants midterm poll with more than four years to go for the next general election. Rumours of her imminent occupying the CM’s chair are surfacing every now and then.
Possibly the Sasikala loyalists are upset with Panneerselvam grabbing the limelight. The way he handled the Jallikattu issue, notwithstanding the violent end to the demonstration, has enhanced his capability to approach sensitive issues. His camping in Delhi meeting the Prime Minister and other ministers and evolving a consensus in favour of issuing an ordinance for the conduct of the Jallikattu in a matter of days have earned all-round applause.
His successful mission of meeting AP Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and ensuring additional release of the Krishna water under the Telugu Ganga Project to quench Chennai’s thirst is another feather in his cap. Further, the rapport he has established with Leader of the Opposition MK Stalin on several issues like tackling the drought situation; the latter extending due courtesies to the CM; the appointment of a retired judge to probe the Marina violence including the alleged police excesses on the protesters; and, above all, invitation to Stalin to participate in the Republic Day function and the conspicuous absence of Sasikala at the event – these have caused a lot of heart-burn in her camp. Observers have also noted how Panneerselvam was dealt with in a cavalier manner by Sasikala during her recent confabulations with the ministers and party MLAs at AIADMK headquarters – he had to sit among the audience with no place for him on the dais. Are these pointers to the shape of things to come in the ruling party affairs?
Though Sasikala is backed by ministers and party functionaries at the district level, she continues to be reticent about her intentions. The suspense over the Supreme Court verdict on the Karnataka Government’s appeal against the acquittal by that State’s High Court of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and two others in the disproportionate assets case could be one reason. The recent refusal of the Madras High Court to discharge her from the foreign exchange fraud case filed by the Enforcement Directorate is another restraint on her ambition.
The Sasikala camp’s current concern is the mounting resentment among the party cadres against her elevation to the post held by Amma. There has been a public display of that hostility by the tearing of posters projecting ‘Chinnamma’ as heir to Amma. Raising this banner of revolt is former minister KP Munisamy from the western Kongu region, who has openly challenged the claim of her ex-husband M. Natarajan that it was he who was instrumental in reuniting the divided AIADMK after MGR’ demise.
At that time MGR’s first wife VN Janaki became the CM fully backed by RM Veerappan, a close associate of MGR. In the election that followed, the Janaki faction was totally routed and the Jayalalithaa faction became the main opposition in the State Assembly. Unable to run the party affairs, Janaki merged her faction with that of Jayalalithaa.
The dissident party workers have found a rallying point in Jayalalithaa’s niece, Deepa Jayakumar, who is being beseeched by them to enter politics to stop the ‘Mannargudi mafia’ from grabbing the party and the government.
‘Mannargui mafia’ is the sobriquet for the combination of Sasikala, Natarajan, her brother Dhivakaran, VN Sudhakaran (Sasikala’s nephew and disowned ‘foster son’ of Jayalalithaa whose ostentatious wedding with Sivaji Ganesan’s granddaughter resulted in Jayalalithaa losing power in 1996) and a host of relatives. Suspecting their palace intrigues to grab power from her, Jayalalithaa had banished them from her Poes Garden residence. However, Sasikala managed to gravitate back by tendering an unconditional apology to her.
The reappearance of the mafia members beside the coffin at Rajaji Hall where Jayalalitha’s mortal remains were kept for public homage has engendered the fear among the party cadres of the mafia’s motive.
The city residence of Deepa, a look-alike of Amma, is being thronged on a daily basis by party cadres in thousands who raise slogans for her entry into politics. She came under media glare during her aunt’s hospitalisation when she alleged that she was physically prevented by Sasikala and company from seeing Jayalalithaa. Some party workers have already floated the Jaya-Deepa Peravai (council of supporters of Deepa), on the lines of the Jayalalithaa Peravai, to serve as a propaganda apparatus for her. Deepa was to announce her entry into politics on January 17, the birth centenary date of the party founder MGR, but she disappointed her supporters saying that she required time to assess her strength and that she would announce her decision on February 24, the birthday of Jayalalithaa. Deepa proposes to tour the entire State from February 5, meeting her supporters on what she should do in the current situation. However, it is too early to determine what would be the impact of her plunging into politics.
(The Author is a senior journalist and Prime Associate from Chennai)