Ever since Chief Minister Jayalalithaa passed away more than two months ago, Tamil Nadu has been subjected to a level of uncertainty that has few precedents in India. As has been the procedure followed whenever Jayalalithaa was incapacitated, including by processes of law, it was the faithful O. Panneerselvam who took over the Chief Ministership. However, what is clear is that the large family of Sasikala Natarajan, who had been the companion of the deceased CM for over three decades, was not happy that an individual other than their relative was holding the post. While DMK supremo Muthuvel Karunanidhi also has a family that he clearly regards as being more deserving of the topmost responsibilities than others, the Karunanidhi family is numerically smaller than the Natarajan family. During Jayalalithaa’s first term as CM, very soon she lost much of the goodwill that had been hers for over a decade as a consequence of her closeness to the legendary M.G. Ramachandran. The cause was the family of Sasikala and her husband Natarajan, who were accused of concentrating power in their own hands and of enriching themselves on an industrial scale. Scandal upon scandal involving the Sasikala Natarajan family broke in the state, with the consequence that the AIADMK was turfed out of power in the next Assembly elections and Jayalalithaa herself was forced to exchange her comfortable life in Veda Nilayam, Poes Garden, for a prison cell. As a consequence, Jayalalithaa distanced herself from the Natarajan family, a situation which continued till her death. Years later, Jayalalithaa once again distanced herself from Sasikala, who was given permission to return to Veda Nilayam only after promising to sever ties with her family members, including her husband Natarajan. Whether such a policy of quarantine was in fact maintained or got ignored in secret is not clear. What is obvious is that Sasikala’s emotional attachment to her family remained strong despite her promise to Jayalalithaa, so much so that just hours after the demise of her companion of 33 years, Sasikala welcomed her family back to the home she had shared with Jayalalithaa, and by her side they have remained since then, emerging from the shadows to become the primary power centre in Tamil Nadu thanks to the fact that most high officials owe their positions to Sasikala, including several in the state police.
Given the fact that the very family that had been toxic to the fortunes of the AIADMK in the past has once again become even more powerful than they were in the first term of Jayalalithaa, added to the extreme unpopularity of Sasikala’s family among the people, it was reasonable to worry about the lady’s ability to ensure a stable administration for the four years and more that the present term of the Tamil Nadu government lasts. Initially, there were several raised eyebrows when Governor Vidyasagar Rao refused to obey the wishes of Camp Sasikala and rush back to Chennai from Mumbai to swear her in as CM. Instead, he went to Delhi, and it is not clear as to whom he met there. However, whoever his contacts may have been in Delhi, it is clear that they have not affected Governor Rao’s caution in swearing in Sasikala as CM. Are there intelligence reports that throw doubt on the suitability of Sasikala to take over the administration of a state still harbouring at least a few individuals who were active in the LTTE in the past? Pakistan’s ISI has long targeted Tamil Nadu for the fomenting of separatist propaganda, seeing in the state a possible partner to Kashmir in ensuring the grooming of groups willing to take up arms to seek to shatter the unity of India. In such circumstances, the Chief Ministership of Tamil Nadu is not simply a matter for the state but for the entire nation. This being the case, and given what we now know about the internal situation within the AIADMK, the caution shown by Governor Rao is understandable. A decision of such magnitude cannot and should not be taken in haste. It needs to be arrived at only after a comprehensive consideration of all aspects of the situation, so that the solution found is truly in the interests of the people of the state, and therefore by extension to the AIADMK as well. The Supreme Court is expected to give a verdict on the criminal case involving Sasikala Natarajan in a few days time. Days will go by before it is clear as to the extent of free will or coercion that is present in the case of the party legislators who are showcased by Camp Sasikala as her supporters. Clearly, each MLA should have the right to vote in secret and according to his or her conscience. Only then will a correct result emerge. What is needed is for the Governor to ensure such a vote, perhaps after the SC verdict (as a finding of guilt would result in Sasikala’s disqualification and consequent political uncertainty). Each MLA should be placed in a condition where the vote is free and according to individual preference and conscience. In such a contest, the winner ought to be sworn in as CM, no matter who she or he may be. The people of Tamil Nadu will not be best served by a hasty decision. They will be better served by the right decision.