The late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa’s first death anniversary is barely three months away, but her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party is yet to find a leader to take the political space left vacant by her untimely death. While pretenders to her legacy fight for the throne, the party founded by her mentor, “Makkal Thilakam” MGR and nurtured by Amma is slowly dying a natural death. Legions of her followers seem to be indifferent to the happenings in the party, the latest episode of which is the removal of Amma’s consort of decades, V.K. Sasikala, in prison right now, and her nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran, arguably the strongest contender among the pretenders, from party posts by the present ruling clique. The so called “usurpers of power”, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy of convenience, O. Panneerselvam have, at a general council meeting of the party, unanimously decided to remove Sasikala from the post of interim general secretary. It was on 29 December 2016 that Sasikala was appointed unanimously as the general secretary of the party by the general council, attended by both Panneerselvam and Palaniswami. Dinakaran, who was made deputy general secretary by Sasikala before moving into a Bangalore prison, too has been stripped of the post. Interestingly, scoffing at all speculation, the general council was silent on the status of Sasikala and Dinakaran’s primary membership of the party. It was decided that no one else would hold the post and Jayalalithaa will remain party general secretary for eternity. An 11-memeber steering committee with Panneerselvam as its head and Palaniswami as deputy would be looking after the affairs of the party in future.
Even as questions are being raised on the composition of the general council and the veracity of its decisions, it is clear that the two—Palaniswami and Panneerselvam—have decided to stick together to share power. The marriage of convenience may not last long, but their immediate plan of action was to get rid of the “Mannargudi clan”, a euphemism for Sasikala and her brood. The best way to do this was by invoking the name of Jayalalithaa. Unless they bring some legitimacy to their leadership of the party, it will not be possible for them to stake claim to the party’s famed two-leaves symbol, which is frozen for the time being by the Election Commission. EC has kept the symbol on hold after Panneerslevam and Palaniswami decided to contest the RK Nagar by-election separately. That the by-poll to Amma’s constituency stands cancelled, is another story. The duo would like to test the waters in RK Nagar first, rather than face fresh state elections as is demanded by opposition DMK and its leader M.K. Stalin. But before this, the Palaniswami government will have to prove its majority, contested vehemently by both Stalin and Dinakaran, on the floor of the House. Going by the number of MLs present at the general council meeting, Palaniswami is short of the magical 117-figure needed to survive the day. Now the High Court has given time till 20 September. In these five days, Palaniswami will have to secure permission from the Governor to disqualify 19 MLAs, who are said to be with Dinakaran. The court has asked the advocate general for instructions from the Speaker on the issue.
As things stand, there is no clarity on many aspects regarding AIADMK, despite all the claims by the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam combine. In the event of their failure in securing the disqualification of the rebel legislators, the current leadership is pinning hopes that Dinakaran would not join hands with DMK to pull down a government of Jayalalithaa. Their calculation is that if he does so, the people will not forgive him for betraying or backstabbing their Amma even in death. This may not happen as they think. People are quite disillusioned about the state of affairs in the party. They are more concerned with the implementation of more social welfare schemes announced by Amma soon after her victory. For the past nine months, there has been no governance at all in the state. Even the opposition DMK has been bogged down with the goings on in AIADMK, so much so that it has not launched any agitation demanding the ouster of the Palaniswami government. This is despite rumours that the BJP, in its bid to get a foothold in the state, is pulling the strings in that party. Though once in a while Stalin raises the BJP angle, the DMK surprisingly has not taken to the streets. To his credit, Stalin has stuck to his word not to indulge in horse trading to come to power. But he may not be averse to join hands with Dinakaran, who has vowed to send Palaniswami home, to vote out the government, but that is not going to solve the problem. Even with Dinakaran’s support DMK will not be in a position to form an alternate government. That means the people of Tamil Nadu will have no option but to live with the present bunch of rulers, whether they rule or not. The more this government clings on to power, Palaniswami and company will in fact be digging the grave of AIADMK. It could at best be put to rest beside Amma on the Marina.