An intriguing political soap opera is unfolding by the hour in Tamil Nadu. As in life so in death: “Puratchi Thalaivi” J. Jayalalithaa and her house in Poes Garden occupy centre stage. It is for her “legacy” that an internecine war, unheard of in the recent past, has broken out in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. As the main dramatis personae, Jayalalithaa’s personal companion of over three decades, V.K. Sasikala and party loyalist of many years’ standing, O. Panneerselvam, slug it out, the party may face an untimely demise like its charismatic leader. It is clear that in this bitter fight for supremacy within the party, there is every likelihood that new players may enter the stage. What prompted the soft-spoken Panneerselvam to turn the tables against Sasikala overnight still remains a mystery, the chain of events following that 45-minute interaction with the “aatma (spirit)” of Jayalalithaa on the Marina makes one believe that this is not just a “one-man fight to restore democracy within the party”.

Sasikala, on her part, had made calculated moves right from the beginning, while cleverly putting up a facade of indifference to power. Right after Amma’s death and the installation of OPS as Chief Minister, disparate voices demanding a bigger role for “Chinnamma” could be heard from different corners. Never during Jayalalithaa’s lifetime had Sasikala been referred to as “Chinnamma”. It was orchestrated after her death. While Sasikala kept on saying that it was Panneerselvam and company who “coerced” her first to become interim general secretary of the party and then the leader of the Legislature party, she never outright rejected their “appeals”. Instead, she donned the mannerisms of Amma, clad in a green sari with a bindi exactly like Jayalalithaa and rode to the party headquarters in Royapetah sitting in the front seat of the car and waving to supporters lined up on the streets. At the party office after her elevation as general secretary, she made it a point to go to the second floor of the building and wave to the crowd below, a la Jayalalithaa, raising two fingers, the party symbol of two leaves. That the crowd below, some say stage-managed, did not respond very enthusiastically did not deter her. The die was cast and Sasikala had grabbed what she wanted. Her first concern definitely was the imminent Supreme Court judgement in the disproportionate assets case. More than anybody else she knew that the judgement going against her would be the beginning of the end of her ambitions. It was absolutely vital for her to become Chief Minister, even for a day, before the top court’s verdict. Other than immunity, by being sworn in as Chief Minister she would have quietly slipped into the shoes of Jayalalithaa. Alas, it did not happen despite all the preparations for the swearing-in taken at the Madras University Senate Hall. Accusations of Panneerselvam hobnobbing with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s’s Stalin and the BJP are all secondary. 

Panneerselvam, now parroting that he was conned to sleepwalk into the legislators’ meeting not knowing that it was meant to elect Sasikala as their leader and automatic chief ministerial candidate, is questionable. No Chief Minister can be that naïve and if he is, he certainly doesn’t deserve to be in that seat. Same is the case with his claim that he was forced to sign his own resignation letter. It is mind-boggling that the Chief Minister of a state representing more than 78 million people made such an outrageous statement. Even the Tamil silver screen could not have dreamed of such a celluloid fantasy. In fact in his letter to the Governor, he had cited “personal reasons” to resign from the post. So where is the question of someone pointing a gun to his head and making him sign the letter? And curiously, he is silent on his role in proposing the name of Sasikala to the position of leader of the AIADMK Legislature party. Sasikala was quoted at the meeting as saying, “It was Thiru O. Panneerselvam who insisted first that I become the Chief Minister…Tamil Nadu government will follow the principles of Amma.” He may shed copious tears now, but that Panneerselvam is playing this role of a messiah determined to save the people from the forces of evil at someone’s behest is clear. It will come to light sooner or later. Already fingers are being pointed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.

The role of Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao has only added to the speculation that the Central government and the BJP do not want Sasikala to become Chief Minister. Inadvertently or not, procrastination on the part of the Governor has given much credence to speculation about Delhi’s backroom manipulations in the ongoing political saga. Now as the state administration has come to a standstill in the absence of a Chief Minister, a secretariat bereft of any decision-makers, and the absence of a host of MLAs, the Governor has reportedly asked for Central forces to ensure law and order in the state. This is definitely an indication that the Centre is moving in the direction of imposition of President’s Rule in the state. Whether such a move will get the President’s nod easily is a big question in the light of what happened in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and elsewhere. Moreover, the President must be aware of the BJP’s compulsions of an electoral college as his term is getting over in a few months.

Whatever may be the outcome, one thing is sure. Whoever be the winner in this game of thrones AIADMK will be battered and bruised. That does not mean that the Congress or BJP will gain anything worthwhile by meddling in this Dravidian mess. The AIADMK MLAs are bound to flock to anyone who can assure them power and the accompanying perks for the next remaining four years. Who wants to face an election without the protection of their benevolent Amma? So if anybody is going to benefit from this identity crisis of the mass leader-based party, it will only be the mother Dravidian party, the cadre-based DMK. Its leader Stalin is already making the correct noises. Also, Sasikala and Panneerselvam seem to be unaware that a dark horse is lurking behind them. It is worth watching the moves of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, M. Thambidurai.

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