Heir-apparent to the throne in Tamil Nadu politics, “Chinnamma” V.K. Sasikala, may be behind bars. But her handpicked nominee Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who was sworn in as Chief Minister on Thursday, has won a trust vote on the floor of the state Assembly reminiscent of the drama enacted 29 years ago post the death of M.G. Ramachandran, the founder of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. It was on 27 January 1988, the group led by MGR’s widow Janaki won the trust vote after the Speaker evicted the rival camp of J. Jayalalithaa led by party veteran V.R. Nedunchezhiyan with the help of the police. This time, mercifully, the police was not needed, but enough damage has been done to the sanctity of the so called temple of democracy. Now only one thing remains to be seen. Will Palaniswami’s government too go Janaki Ramachandran’s way when the government lasted only 24 days, after which President’s Rule was imposed on the state? 

Whatever may be the developments in the next few days, it looks like the tussle for supremacy in the AIADMK will only intensify. As long as loyalist-turned-rebel-overnight, O. Panneerselvam and his motley crowd of 10 odd MLAs and a few MPs refuse to acknowledge the leadership of stark outsider Palaniswami, an air of uncertainty will definitely prevail. OPS and company have not given up hope yet, as is evident from how they continue to expel rivals from the party since they ardently believe the rank and file of the party is with them. But since Palaniswami has proved his majority on the floor of the Assembly, OPS’ claim that his group is the real party may not hold much water; unless he proves otherwise in the next elections, which in the normal course is four-and-a-half years away, in 2021. His threat to go to the people in a bid to expose V.K. Sasikala and her Mannargudi Mafia also seems to have fizzled out. There are only a handful of takers for OPS’ continued struggle for his new-found democracy within the party. When he says “let’s all together stop the party and government from going into the hands of a single family,” he sounds as if he is mouthing someone else’s words. Ditto when he speaks about forming a people’s government in sync with the aspirations of people. This coming from a man who had no qualms about prostrating full length in front of Amma is ironic. It will be interesting to see for how long OPS continues with his “struggle” to save AIADMK, with or without the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

How far Palaniswami will be allowed to go by those who catapulted him to the position where he is today will be a big question mark hanging over his head.  

From now on, the task, be it governance or steering the party, is well cut out for the incumbent Palaniswami. He is not a first-time MLA like many of his co-legislators owing allegiance to Sasikala who are allegedly kept in captivity by Chinnamma’s henchmen at a resort in Mahabalipuram off the Chennai coast. A four-time MLA from his native Edappadi constituency in Salem district, Palaniswami held the PWD, Highways and Minor Ports portfolios in the Jayalalithaa and Panneerselvam Cabinets. As Amma was known not to allow anyone to take strong root within the party other than herself, being a four-time MLA itself is something Palaniswami can boast about. According to certain reports, he was a member of Amma’s close coterie known as Nalvar Ani, meaning Four-Man Army. All that is now in the past. What people or supporters of the party will be looking for is how Palaniswami turns the wheels of state governance from Fort St George; and whether or not he would be a rubber stamp Chief Minister. For all you know, Palaniswami has a mind of his own. But how far he will be allowed to go by those who catapulted him to the position where he is today will be a big question mark hanging over his head. Only time will tell how he circumvents roadblocks and becomes his own man. For, Sasikala, the aspirant to the throne, who ardently believes that the legacy of Amma is hers and hers alone for being Jayalalithaa’s virtual shadow for over three decades, has done enough groundwork before checking in at the Parappana Agrahara Central Jail on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

Before leaving for her four-year sojourn behind bars, Chinnamma has hastily put her own men in the right places. So a new post of deputy general secretary of the party has been created for T.T.V. Dinakaran, who is the son of Sasikala’s sister Vanithamani. He is a former MP and also the party’s treasurer. He is also the first director of Jaya TV. He has been given the party post when the elevation of Sasikala herself as party general secretary is being challenged by the Panneerselvam group. Then there is Vivek Jayaraman, son of V.N. Elavarashi, wife of Sasikala’s brother Jayaraman, who is no more. Elavarashi, along with Jayalalithaa’s one-time foster son V.N. Sudharkaran, brother of Dinakaran, is with Sasikala, convicted in the disproportionate assets case. Veda Nilayam, the mansion of Jayalalithaa in the upscale Poes Garden locality, which itself is worth over Rs 44 crore and which Panneerselvam wants to turn into a Jaya memorial, will be under the control of Vivek, who is said to be nursing political ambitions. Sasikala insists that Jayalalithaa has bequeathed the house to Elavarashi, though no official record has been produced ever. Then there is a battalion from Sasikala’s native Mannargudi, including her husband Natarajan, who had been given marching orders by Jayalalithaa. Now all of them are back in circulation like bad old pennies and have a virtual stranglehold on the party. The powerful Jaya TV is under their control. So is the largest manufacturer of IMFL in the state, Midas Distillery. Not to speak of umpteen companies floated by Jayalalithaa, in each of which Sasikala is a partner. Once they take full control of the party, then the funds too will come under their disposal. Money, the major player in Tamil politics, is going to flow unabated, unlike the waters from river Cauvery. Moreover, each MLA has been given a blank cheque as to do what they like, meaning loot the public money, since returning to power in 2021, if at all they last till that time, is very remote.

Today the situation in Tamil Nadu is not the same as when Jayalalithaa went to the very same Central Jail in Bengaluru two years ago. How can god be jailed was the refrain of AIADMK supporters then. Political parties including the BJP kept a steadied silence. The very same Panneerselvam burst into tears as he took oath as interim Chief Minister. Political rivals, who hid themselves behind the four walls of their houses then, are today out in the open hoping to reap a political harvest. There is no public outrage or drummed up protests from party workers. Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary is on 24 February. Though the Supreme Court judgement has ripped apart the aura which Jayalalithaa built around herself, such is the power of cult politics in Tamil Nadu that she is still the Queen, even in death. So there is nothing unnatural about the Dravidian party to be in the midst of a power struggle for the inheritance of her legacy. What legacy, you may ask.

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