Even four years after her death, J Jayalalithaa wields enormous emotional clout with the vast majority of the people of Tamil Nadu. Undoubtedly he has left behind a legacy for which the AIADMK is fighting on now.
The battle for late J Jayalalithaa’s legacy is on in Tamil Nadu. Ever since the Election Commission announced the poll date, the battle has intensified. The current twin leadership of AIADMk - incumbent Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and his Deputy O Panneerselvam (OPS), are battling it out to thwart the vigorous attempts of the ousted party leader V K Sasikala, who has returned to Tamil Nadu after serving her four year prison term in a disproportionate assets case at the Bengaluru’s Parapanna Agraharm jail. As Sasikala is determined to wrest back the status of “General Secretary- AIADMK”, which she enjoyed before heading to Bengaluru to serve her jail term, and take centre stage of Tamil Nadu politics, the onus is on the current twin leadership of AIADMK, especially on EPS who is seeking a second term at the high office.
After Jayalalithaa's death in December 2016, OPS was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Subsequently Sasikala was elected the AIADMK's interim general secretary and as its legislature party leader in February 2017.
Soon, the relationship between OPS and Sasikala soared as Sasikala wanted to be the Chief Minister. Subsequently the party was split with OPS faction and Sasikala faction. At this juncture the Supreme Court dashed Sasikala’s hopes by restoring her conviction in the assets case and ordered her to serve four years imprisonment. Sasikala passed on the mantle to her nephew TTV Dinakaran.
Subsequently, EPS was chosen as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in Feburarty, 2017. Though at that time many people were surprised with the choice of EPS as the Chief Minister as he was not a leader with tremendous clout but the fact remains that within the party he was always considered as a performer. He was one the famous four leaders of AIADMK who had close proximity to the deceased chief minister Jayalalithaa.
After becoming the chief minister, EPS also proved to be a wise man. The main reason he was chosen for the top job by the Sasikala clan is that they thought EPS can be easily used as a puppet they can continue to wield power and govern the state. Moreover Sasikala thought that like OPS who gave back his chair to Jayalalithaa, EPS will magnanimously place her back on the AIADMK pedestal. But EPS was smart enough to sense the danger quickly and with a series of deft moves, outmanoeuvred TTV Dinakaran. EPS not only regrouped with the rebel OPS but also successfully ousted both Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran from the party.
Factionalism is not new to AIADMK. Soon after the death of the legendary M G Ramachandran (MGR) in 1987, the party got split with MGR’s wife Janaki on one side and Jayalalithaa on the other. But, within months Jayalalithaa managed to unite the warring faction as she kept the flocks together. Eventually Jayalalithaa not only grew in stature as AIADMK supermo but also ended up as the most charismatic leader of the state.
But four years after her death, the AIADMK is still fighting hard to find a charismatic leader to fill up the space left by Jayalalithaa. The other Dravidian major DMK also faces the same problem with the absence of Karunanidhi. The hard fact about Tamil Nadu is that still the state refuses to move beyond the two stalwarts of the Dravidian majors -M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa. The kind of emotional connect both the leaders have established over the years among the cadres remains difficult to match.
Both DMK and AIADMK are still fighting hard to find a charismatic leader who could match their stature in the Tamil Nadu’s political spectrum.
Today, AIADMK's stand vis-a-vis Sasikala and DInakaran is very firm. “There is no chance. She is not even a member of the AIADMK,” asserted EPS on the possibility of Sasikala rejoining the party. Senior party leader and Fisheries Minister Jayakumar, categorically declared that the party will never allow "one family to rule" the state, obviously referring to Sasikala clan.
Soon after expelled from the party TTV Dinakaran conspired with 18 AIADMK MLAs and rebelled against Palaniswami in 2017. TTV Dhinakaran conspired wrest control of the party and also break the ruling AIADMK, but all his efforts were thwarted by the alert EPS. EPS asserted that Dinakaran’s dreams will not fructify as the worker-dominated party will remain united. Subsequently, he floated Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). Critics point out that if Sasikala, who is pressing for reunion now, would not have allowed Dinakaran to float AMMK, if she is only interested in the welfare of the party. Now she is only trying to regain her control over AIADMK.
While sources claim that BJP is also urging AIADMK for unison with Sasikala because they firmly think that she still commands considerable vote bank and only by taking her back in AIADMK can comfortably defeat archrival DMK. But EPS stands firm and refuses to accommodate both Sasikala and Dinakaran. Several reports are doing rounds about the BJP’s perceived interference on the merger of Sasikala and AMMK and undoubtedly it has irked the cadres of AIADMK and also affected the ongoing the seat-sharing exercise.
The current AIADMK leadership is fears that such a move would go counter-productive as the fact remains that Sasikala does not command huge respect in the minds of the common people of Tamil Nadu except some ardent followers of Sasikala within the party. Assuming that she could damage some pockets of Tamil Nadu, EPS is confident that such said how minimum loss of the community votes’ could be compensated with the recent moves of the government to benefit larger sections of the society.
Moreover, an inquiry commission was formed to inquire into the allegation against certain people over the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and a sizable section of the people in Tamil Nadu suspect Sasikala’s involvement. At this juncture accommodating her and Dinakaran in AIADMK will become a setback to AIADMK and also pave the way for DMK. Besides there are still couple FERA violation cases pending against Sasikala. Meanwhile, Dhinakaran, asserted that the AMMK would continue its political journey and contest the ensuing Assembly elections. Dinakaran also reiterated that his party was ready to align with any party to stall the DMK from coming to power.
EPS strongly believes in his governance and the recent couple of welfare new welfare schemes and 10.5% quota for Vanniyar community have not indeed increased his popularity but also will help him garner votes across Tamil Nadu. Today he has grown as a tall leader and faces the election as an able administrator before the people of Tamil Nadu on the lines of Amma. Sure, the AIADMK looks forward to reclaim Amma’s legacy in the coming polls.