Ever since the former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa passed away in December last year, the political situation in Tamil Nadu has been volatile and has been witnessing a series of dramatic ups and downs. With AIADMK virtually broken in to three factions (now two), the battle for Amma’s legacy and tussle for power has growing day by day.
Ever since the former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa passed away in December last year, the political situation in Tamil Nadu has been volatile and has been witnessing a series of dramatic ups and downs. When a tall leader passes away, political parties usually see a vacuum. That is not the case with the AIADMK, post 5 December, 2016. Her untimely demise has created ripple not only in AIADMK but across the political spectrum of entire Tamil Nadu.
After the untimely death of J Jayalalithaa on December 5th, 2016, O Paneerselvam, was handpicked to don the mantle of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. It must be noted, it was O Paneerselvam who was chosen by none other than Jayalalithaa herself on two previous occasions when due to unforeseen circumstances Jayalalithaa had to demit office. On two occasions after Jayalalithaa came out victorious, the mantle was duly handed back to her with all humbleness by O Panneerselvam. That undue loyalty prompted Jayalalithaa to publicly shower praise on O Panneerselvam. Jayalalithaa said, “I have heard only in the Ramayana where Bharata gave back the kingship to Lord Rama when the latter returned to Ayodhya from forest, just like that Panneerselvam returned kingship to me ". So, when the leadership crisis happened, O Paneerselvam became the obvious choice and was once again sworn in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on the night of December,5, 2016.
O Paneerselvam did begin to prove his mettle as a good administrator. His handling of several issues like Students unrest over the ban on Jallikattu, a traditional bull sport followed by the relief measures undertaken after the cyclone Vardah hit Chennai drew lot of appreciation from the public. Further, his soft spoken nature and easy accessibility helped him to shed his “stand-by” tag and he appeared to be set for a longer stint as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But, the rise of his popularity did not seem to go well with Sasikala.
Sasikala, , never realised that Jayalalithaa’s shoes will be too big for her. Jayalalithaa fought her way into the party and rose to become the AIADMK supremo, mainly due to her strong will power and grit which are the characteristics of a tall leader. Her leadership remained unmatched and undisputed till the end. Where as, Sasikala was in a hurry. She first demonstrated her hold on the party after Jayalalithaa’s demise and became its General Secretary. Soon, her hunger for more power urged her to opt for the coveted Chief Minister’s chair. Sasikala wanted to take over the chief minister's chair arguing that dual positions of power is against the AIADMK grain. Further, despite staying with Jayalalithaa for well over three decades, Jayalalithaa did not give her any post either in the party or in the governance. Till date, Sasikala has not contested in any election. The fact remains that while MGR groomed Jayalalithaa as his political successor, Jayalalithaa did nothing of the sort with Sasikala. Sasikala along with her husband and other relatives are refereed as “Mannargudi Mafia” (Mannargudi is the native place of Sasikala) for their illegal activities and ill-gotten wealth.
Sasikala, finally got the better of O Panneerselvam and made him resign from the post of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Fissures started to emerge when O Panneerselvam, after resigning on the fateful night of Feburary,7, 2017, headed straight to Jayalalithaa’s memorial and after spending close to an hour meditating made an explosive speech. The normally reticent Paneerselvam, finally broke his silence and told the media that he was forced to resign as the Chief Minister by Sasikala, General Secretary of AIADMK. Panneerselvam’s resentment not only created ripples in the AIADMK but indeed reverberated throughout Tamil Nadu.
While majority of the MLAs supported Sasikala, Pannerselvam had the support of the people of Tamil Nadu as majority of the people felt that the move to sack him was undemocratic. Though, Sasikala managed keep her flocks together, clearly she lost the people’s mandate as a sizable population of Tamil N adu were upset over her greed for power and started to openly condemn Sasikala’s “back door” attempt to take over the reins of Tamil Nadu.
Finally, when Sasikala did manage to pull up the socks and made all the arrangements to occupy the CM’s chair, the apex court crushed her aspirations by convicting her in the 19 year old disproportionate asset case. The verdict is a big blow to Sasikala’s political career as she not only had to serve her four years imprisonment along with a fine of Rs.10Cr, beside she cannot contest any election for the 6 years from the date of release from prison. Subsequently, Sasikala named Palaniswami as Legislature Party Leader as she had to serve the prison sentence. She also brought is her nephew TTV Dinakaran, who was suspended by Jayalalithaa in 2011, into the party again and made him the Deputy general Secretary.
Panneerselvam’s Tough stand
Ever since his volte-face against Sasikala, O Panneerselvam has been highly critical of Sasikala and her clan and openly accused them of trying to control both the government. After the initial momentum that galvanised in to a massive support for O Panneerselvam and prompted 10 MLAS and half a dozen MPs joining him in his crusade against the domination of one family in AIADMK , O Panneerselvam failed to capitalise the euphoria and translate it to a position of formidable strength. Then came the RK Nagar bye-election. As if waiting for an opportunity where his aunt missed, Dinakaran contested the RK Nagar bye Polls with an aim of becoming the Chief Minister. Though, later Dinakaran denied, given the fact that Sasikala’s family has not shied away from going against popular sentiment, it cannot be ruled out.
Both factions contested claiming to be the real heir of Jaya’s legacy demanded “Two Leaves” symbol. The Election Commission finally froze the symbol and also banned the two factions from suing the party name. Subsequently, OPS faction was renamed as Puratchi Thalaivi (Amma) and the EPS faction was named AIADMK (Amma). But, due to large scale bribing of voters by the political parties, especially AIADMK (Amma), EC finally cancelled the election itself. Dinakaran was arrested g by the Delhi police for allegedly attempting to bribe an unidentified EC official to get the AIADMK's 'two leaves' election symbol for his faction. Following the arrest, O Pannerselvam demanded Dinakaran’s expulsion from the party.
With the aunt and nephew, calling the shots, Palaniswami’s government was ridiculed as a proxy of Sasikala by rebel Panneerselvam and opposition parties led by the DMK. Since then both the factions have been indulging war of words accusing each other. OPS even called every department under the EPS government are highly corrupt. He pointed out the inefficiencies of EPS government with a focus on the NEET controversy, drinking water shortages and the dengue epidemic. The OPS faction was even ready to hold protest against the EPS government in Chennai but as the merger began to crystallise the protest plans were dropped.
BJP: The driving force?
Despite differences on the issues pertaining to AIADMK, both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam have been friendly to the BJP and supported to its presidential and vice-presidential nominees. Both met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and appraised him of the political developments in Tamil Nadu. It is learned that BJP preferred the unification of the factions and at one stage even prepared to brokering peace between warring AIADMK factions.
The question on everyone’s mind is that is why is the BJP so keen to see a unified AIADMK? Is the BJP really interested in only putting an end to an acrimonious dispute between the two factions of AIADMK and the welfare of Tamil Nadu? It is no secret that BJP is trying to cash in on the huge leadership vacuum that was created after Jayalalithaa’s demise. The subsequent factional fights within AIADMK has further provided proper ammunition for BJP as the party has been looking to develop a formidable base in Tamil Nadu.
It is nothing wrong for a national party to expand its base. BJP has been desperately trying to shed its image of being ‘the party from the North’ and project as a true national party with interests in the welfare of Tamil Nadu. Indeed, BJP is looking for a long term and did not want lose any opportunity to make the “Lotus” bloom in Tamil Nadu. As a part of its strategy, BJP think tank thought it will strengthen their base if they align with a local party and the current crisis in AIADMK offered them a perfect opportunity.
BJP knows clearly that with its current base in Tamil Nadu which neither has the cadre strength nor a strong pan-Tamil Nadu leader it is difficult to take on the DMK-Congress combine. Besides, it must be noted that even when Modi wave swept across the country in 2014, Jayalalithaa picked up 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu, such was the persona of Jayalalithaa. Today, everyone knows that the same cannot be repeated in her absence. But the presence of AIADMK in every village and town in Tamil Nadu is what BJP is trying to utilise to its advantage.
Ever since the crisis erupted in AIADMK, BJP has been favouring Panneerselvam stating that it was he who was picked by none other than Jayalalithaa. BJP also made overtures to Rajnikanth. So, at one stage it looked like BJP was even be prepared to go with one faction of the AIADMK, but decided that a unified one will give them more space.
It was Panneerselvam who ostensibly protested Sasikala's hegemony and in the process earned a considerable support from the people. Also with the kind of Sasikala’s tainted image, BJP top brass decided that if they align with AIADMK with Sasikala as the Genereal Secretary, it will not augur well for the party. BJP wanted to take a non-corrupt avatar in Tamil Nadu and pushed its cards accordingly and indulged in back seat driving towards the merger of the Panneerselvam and Palanisamy factions. BJP believes that a combined AIADMK, without any tainted image of its leadership, can help BJP win seats in Tamil Nadu in the 2019.
While some senior leaders of AIADMK expressed their resentment over BJP meddling in the affairs of their party, some other leaders realized that it is important to remain in the good books of BJP. As result, Tamil Nadu Cabinet gave indications of sidelining Sasikala and Dinakaran. In the meanwhile Dinakaran organised a rally in Melur, Madurai and showcased 19 MLAs supporting him. In a political twist EPS, ousted TTV Dinakaran from the post of Deputy General Secretary declaring his post null and void after TTV Dinakaran’s show of strength in Madurai. Asserting his supremacy EPS came out with a master stroke and announced that an enquiry commission will be constituted under a retired High Court judge to probe into the former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's death and also her iconic residence in Poes Garden, Chennai, will be converted in to a memorial.
Much Awaited Merger
Following the merger a power sharing arrangement was also worked out. Accordingly Panneerselvam will act as Deputy CM and will function under Palanisamy. Palanisamy will continue to remain as the CM. Besides, Panneerselvam will also hold the portfolios of Housing, Rural Housing and Housing Development, Slum Clearance Board and Accommodation Control, Town Planning, Urban Development and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority. The roles will be reversed in the party hierarchy as Panneerselvam will be the AIADMK coordinator while Palaniswami will be the co-coordinator of AIADMK. Besides an 11 member panel has been constituted to guide the party. OPS has been appointed as the Coordinator, with EPS as Joint Coordinator, and KP Munusamy and Rajya Sabha MP Vaithilingam as Deputy Coordinators. While OPS was sworn in as Deputy CM with Finance and other portfolios, his aide MaFoi K Pandiarajan was sworn-in as Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture.
The new equation is the result of weeks of hard bargaining by factions led by the two leaders. But still the question on Sasikala's appointment as party General Secretary remains unanswered. On the other hand, the sidelined TTV Dinakaran and his loyalists continued to maintain that party cadres are with Sasikala, who is in jail in a graft case, even as the fate of both Sasikala and Dinakaran in the party remains uncertain.
TTV Effect: How will the uncertainty pan out?
Ideally the merger of Panneerselvam and Palanisamy factions, would have ended on a happy note. But , it triggered another round of uncertainty because the deal was done much to the chagrin of Sasikala and Dinakaran. Dinakaran and Sasikala are the losers in the new dispensation. For Dinakaran and Sasikala it is a fight to prove their authority to wield power over the party which at one stage remained unchallenged at the time of Jayalalithaa’s demise. Both need the power to not only demonstrate their supremacy but also maintain the wealth of their clan. It is history how Sasikala started from her humble background and systematically rose to handle the affairs of the AIADMK and today wield enormous clout despite serving jail sentence. Besides, with both of them still holding on to the posts of general secretary and the deputy general secretary of the party, it will not be that simple for both Panneerselvam and Palanisamy to shoo them away.
DInakaran refused to be calmed down and began to rock the boat. He enacted “koovathoor” style drama by herding 19 MLAs who show allegiance to him to a hotel in Puducherry. The 19 MLAs also met the governor C Vidyasagar Rao and gave it in writing that they did not have confidence in EPS. Following which the opposition parties have also met the governor and pressed for a trust vote in the Tamil Nadu assembly.
But the Tamil Nadu made it clear that there is no need for a trust vote and explained that the 19 dissenting MLAs were still in the AIADMK and hence, he did not think the Chief Minister had lost his majority. The DMK, after they did not get the desired result, has also met President Ram Nath Kovind and urged him to ensure that a floor test is held immediately in Tamil Nadu for the Palaniswami government to prove its majority.
Dinakaran is now virtually threatening to pull down the government. But, if he does, it will not be easy for him to go back to people for polls as he will be seen as the traitor. Also, given the fact that the public stigma his family carries is so huge, he cannot make an impact in the polls. Moreover, as there are chinks in his armour, the centre will be on hot pursuit and brazenly use its power. Political analysts, point out that Dinakaran's show of strength won’t last long as he can do only a little manouvering and will be forced to back down in return for a temporary halt to action against him.
Both EPS and OPS know that the numbers are important, since the halfway mark is 117 and the merged faction has 114 till now. So, they knocked the Election Commission's doors seeking recognition as the real AIADMK and the "Two Leaves" symbol for it and also sought the withdrawal of their earlier affidavits claiming that they have merged and that unity has been registered in the party. Not to outdone, Dinakaran faction also met the officials of the Election Commission and claimed to be the real party and insisted that it should be heard before the poll body takes a decision on any plea to be submitted by the faction consisting of O Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami after their recent merger.
In the meanwhile, the merged AIADMK has called for a general council meeting on September 12, to formally elect the General Secretary of the party. The Dinakaran camp has claimed that only Sasikala can convene the AIADMK General Council and is likely to take the legal route. In order to further strengthen its claim over the party and the merged AIADMK released two CDs purportedly of the late J Jayalalithaa's remarks against her aide V K Sasikala and her family. While one of them is apparently linked to expulsion of Sasikala and her family members from AIADMK in 2011, the other was Jayalalithaa's words of praise for Palaniswami in 2013.
Dinakaran also warned of "stringent action" against his MLAs attending the meeting.
It remains to be seen in the coming days whether there will be a change in the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu or the General Secretary of AIADMK. As such the drama is yet to be far from over.