For the first time in several decades, Tamilnadu politics is witnessing the rise of non-filmy heroes – AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, her nephew TTV Dinakaran, former chief minister O Panneerselvam and Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar – even as a battle for Jayalalithaa’s legacy rages on.
The prolonged illness and death of Jayalalithaa, shrouded in mystery – notwithstanding government assertions and Apollo Hospital’s clean chit – circumstances relating to and leading to the death of former chief minister Jayalalithaa is only one of the issues that is dominating the political discourse in Tamilnadu, that has for over four decades been ruled by a film hero, heroine or scriptwriter (MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi).
Jayalalithaa’s death in December last year triggered political activity that had all the elements of a filmy potboiler complete with drama, emotions, action and a political thriller with all the twists and turns that any film maker would die to imagine.
Consider this scene: His Master’s Voice – former chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS as he is referred to in a state where almost everything is abbreviated) in his third innings as a stop-gap chief minister, the last one from December 5 midnight after Amma’s death – daring to revolt, and that too in a very cinematic manner. OPS sat on a 40-minute meditation before Amma’s memorial at Marina Beach, even as word reached media persons of the possibility of a dramatic revolt. The time was around 10 in the night. The
February 7 OPS bombshell came just a day before the long-time companion of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, who he said grabbed the party and government through the backdoor, triggering off a political crisis that the ruling AIADMK was plunged into.
It was the battle for Jayalalithaa’s legacy – albeit tainted by the corruption charges and conviction – that OPS claimed as his being her most trusted and faithful aide, and hotly contested by Sasikala, who lived with Amma for over three decades through her ups and downs.
As subsequent events that unfolded in a dramatic fashion proved, that Chinnamma — that Sasikala would like to be known as – was well prepared for the Supreme Court verdict that was likely to go against her. Her planning skills, organisational capabilities and iron grip over the party apparatus came to the fore as the Tamilnadu Political League kicked off in real earnest after OPS’ revolt. Slowly but surely, OPS was gaining traction with the cadres, and a few senior leaders like founder member E Madhusudanan and C Ponnaiyan joining hands and questioning Sasikala and her legitimacy to take over the party.
All the planning Sasikala did could not get her to sit on the CM throne, as the verdict disqualified her from holding public office or to contest elections for the next ten years. The key player who prevented her from achieving her dream of being sworn in as the chief minister in place of the person she served as her Man-Friday – Jayalalithaa by putting off the swearing-in function of Sasikala till Supreme Court verdict was delivered Sasikala, who had taken over the AIADMK, had also gotten herself elected as the leader of the AIADMK legislature party to run the government as well as the party.
The SC verdict put paid to her gameplan, but she was ready for any eventuality. The SC order had directed Sasikala to surrender forthwith – but she and even the local police interpreted the order in such a manner that gave her plenty of time to make “alternative arrangements”.
It Was The Battle For Jayalalithaa Jairam’s Legacy That OPS Claimed As His, Being Arguably Her Most Trusted And Faithful Aide
Sasikala spent the night before the verdict with the MLAs inside the resort and prepared them for the political battle ahead. Within hours of her conviction, she managed to install her puppet Edapaddi Palaniswami as the new AIADMK legislature party leader and kept the MLAs safe from poaching by the “traitors”. More important, Sasikala handed over the AIADMK to her nephew TTV Dinakaran, appointing him as the deputy general secretary. He now lives in the Poe’s Garden residence of Jayalalithaa and controls the party and the government, on behalf of Chinnamma. Governor C Vidyasagar Rao had no option but to declare him as the new AIADMK legislative party leader to form the government and take a floor test in a fortnight.
If Sasikala had prepared well for the SC verdict, clearly the challenger lived on hopes and prayers.
The SC verdict that sparked off noisy celebrations at the residence of OPS proved to be premature, as Sasikala had packed off all the party MLAs into a luxury sea-side resort, guarded round the clock by her faithful and trusted private army of party workers (‘goondas’, alleged OPS and opposition leaders) with no contact with the outside world. Most of the 134 MLAs of the AIADMK were taken to the Golden Bay resort on the pretext of being taken to Delhi to call on the President, and once there, they were locked up in luxury.
It was clear that despite the 10 days of time with him, chief minister OPS could do precious little in attracting MLAs to his side – just a handful would have defeated the government on the floor of the house.
In the end, what promised to be a 20-20 match on the floor of the assembly turned into a breezy victory for the Sasikala camp, after opposition DMK created so much of a ruckus that it got itself ejected from the proceedings.
The AIADMK government led by Edapaddi Palaniswami is legally and technically legitimate, as 122 of the 134 AIADMK MLAs have voted for it in the floor test. But it faces a huge legitimacy deficit in the eyes of the people, who perceive it as a “power grabbing exercise by the Mannargudi Mafia”. For those uninitiated in the Tamilnadu scenario, Mannargudi is the region from where Sasikala hails, and her many relatives and followers from there are referred to as the Mannargudi Mafia for their alleged involvement in organised crime. Their influence is felt all over the state and across governments, and in almost every walk of life.
There is near revulsion among the people over Sasikala and her family taking over Tamilnadu. In fact, the Sasikala camp may have won the first round – by capturing power and the seat of governance – but the battle is still on to win the minds of the people. And clearly, the mood across Tamilnadu is one that is totally against the Sasikala group, which it will find out in the local body polls that are to be held shortly in the state, say political analysts.
OPS is the main challenger to Sasikala and he has become a hero across Tamilnadu after his revolt. The reason why he is loved by the people is that he was beginning to become very popular as also successful – by doing something that even Amma could not and get Jallikattu back in Tamilnadu. OPS had soon become a household name, and he was slowly trying to get a grip over the state apparatus in bureaucracy and police.
He is also perceived to have the blessings of the central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Poe’s Garden was extremely angry with OPS and decided to dump him. He played along, till the proverbial eleventh hour – the eve of swearing in of Sasikala as the chief minister – to drop the biggest political bombshell in over three decades – revolting against Amma’s long-time companion Sasikala.
Sasikala’s handpicked chief minister and her nephew heading the party, have launched a full-fledged battle to win the masses, with an aggressive pro-people push to the Amma programmes. All the Amma’s poll promises of May 2016 are being quickly being implemented and inside the party, wooing of the ‘angry cadres and leaders’ has begun in right earnest.
“But all this will come to a nought as people know the reality,” said Deepa Jayakumar — the look-alike niece of Jayalalithaa – the first person in Tamilnadu to launch a broadside against Sasikala and her people.
Soon after forming “MGR Amma Deepa Peravai” a political forum, Deepa announced that she will be contesting for the assembly from RK Nagar constituency that Jayalalithaa represented till her death. The masses are with her, as she teamed up with OPS, to “wrest the party from wrongdoers and revive Amma’s AIADMK”.
Clearly, the battle for Amma’s political legacy has only just begun.
All this drama in ruling AIADMK should be a godsent for opposition DMK. All that it needs to do is to bide its time, hang on to its vote share and enjoy the factional fight within the ruling AIADMK. As a political analyst put it: “From here, the DMK will have to do something very stupid to lose a golden opportunity that is presenting itself to the party.”