Will AMMK and AIADMK collide and make certain a DMK victory, or will they form an alliance?
The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, together with its electoral ally the BJP, faces a moment of decision now that Vivekanandan Krishnaveni Sasikala is out of prison. There was indeed a period of estrangement between her and Jayalalithaa, although the friction was caused by the influence of Sasikala’s husband Natarajan, who is no more. It may be remembered that Natarajan was a favourite of Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the DMK leader who was—to put it mildly—no friend of Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK supremo wanted V.K. Sasikala as her life partner, and not Mrs Sasikala Natarajan, although understandably, the friend and confidante of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu could not entirely sever the emotional bond that she had with her long-time husband. It must have been difficult to navigate between these two relationships, but it must be said that Sasikala remained almost the only emotional anchor that Jayalalithaa had for much of her life. It was Jayalalithaa herself, a remarkably charming and brilliant individual, who introduced this columnist to Sasikala in Poes Garden, saying that “the relationship between me and her is as close as the relationship between you and Lakshmi”, my wife. They were very close indeed, which is why it is going to be problematic if the AIADMK were to ignore her in the manner the DMK ignored M.G. Ramachandran, that most popular of Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers. Should the AIADMK-BJP alliance not effect a reconciliation with V.K. Sasikala, the path would be clear for DMK leader M.K. Stalin to be the next Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in alliance with the Congress Party. As for her lifestyle choices, those who found fault with Jayalalithaa about this exhibit a Victorian mentality that was out of place in the 20th century, leave alone the 21st. It was a victory for human dignity and rights when the Supreme Court decreed on 6 September 2018 that consensual same sex relationships cannot be treated as criminal the way India’s Victorian-era Section 377 made them out to be. That was among the finest judgements made by the Supreme Court of India, which should at all times play the role of guardian of the rights and freedoms of the citizen in our democracy.
Not having any children of her own, Sasikala has been a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews, among whom the most prominent is T.T.V Dhinakaran, who is the effective head of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). The family has in the past shown a propensity to acquire wealth and political power through their aunt, and this needs to be curbed in the future. Unless such an abstention from using their closeness to a VIP takes place in the manner that the family of PM Modi has shown, Sasikala is likely to again land in trouble, and for the same reason as formerly. Given that it is unlikely that E.P. Palaniswamy would agree to step down as Chief Minister were his party and its poll partners to carry the day in the forthcoming Assembly elections, for a reconciliation to take place, Sasikala would need to ensure that her nephew Dhinakaran places on hold his ambition to be the Chief Executive of this very consequential state. Whether there will be an alliance with the BJP-AIADMK or the AMMK will go its own way and give an unsurmountable advantage to the already bright prospects of the DMK is an open question. The BJP and its ally have not acquitted themselves well in the fiasco involving Rajinikanth, when it was assumed (including by this columnist) that the thespian had finally given up his habitual indecision and prevaricating ways and would soon join the AIADMK-BJP alliance. Those around Rajinikanth had been emphatic in private that this was what their hero was about to announce. It is not known whether it was dread of the DMK reaction to such a move should the party come back to power, or just cold feet about dipping into the rough and tumble of political life that motivated the sudden withdrawal from politics of an individual who has long been given far too much media attention than was merited. At least Kamal Haasan is staying the course, unlike Rajinikanth, who seems to differ in the degree of his courage from M.G. Ramachandran. This columnist met MGR more than once while much younger, and it must be said that the long-time CM of TN never lacked the spine to join in a fight, usually giving much harder than he got, especially to the DMK. Jayalalithaa was the same, bold and unafraid when challenged, even when she seemed to be on the ropes and close to getting a knockout blow from her opponents. Sasikala was with her throughout those days, spending years in prison as a consequence of that friendship.
After the fizzling out of that firecracker Rajinikant, the AIADMK-BJP alliance needs more allies if the coalition is to escape the effects of the less than spectacular performance of Chief Minister Edapaddi K. Palaniswamy and Deputy CM O. Paneerselvam. It is clear since her release that Sasikala still retains a hold over voters in view of her close association with Jayalalithaa. Will the AMMK and the AIADMK collide and make certain the victory of a DMK that has largely broken free of the corruption cases against some of its senior leaders, or will they form an alliance? The sticking point may be Dhinakaran, but it may be best for Sasikala’s nephew to prove his mettle as a minister should the AIADMK-led coalition emerge the winners in the TN Assembly polls. Rahul Gandhi was unwilling to take that test during 2004-14, and as a consequence has failed to emerge as anything of a challenge even to second rung leaders of the BJP, much less to that continuing national favourite of voters, Narendra Modi.