With Sasikala’s ar­rest and the AIADMK di­vided into war­ring camps, all eyes are on the con­test be­tween Pan­neer­sel­vam and Palanisamy

India Today - - INSIDE - By Amar­nath K. Menon

Sasikala’s con­vic­tion in a cor­rup­tion case crushes her chief min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions and brings AIADMK pol­i­tics to a cli­max

For over a week, Tamil Nadu Gover­nor Chen­na­ma­neni Vidyasagar Rao waited, re­fus­ing to act on All In­dia Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (AIADMK) gen­eral sec­re­tary V.K. Sasikala’s de­mand that she be sworn in as chief min­is­ter. In hind­sight, the de­ci­sion was a good one, for, on Fe­bru­ary 14, Supreme Court judges Pi­naki Chandra Ghose and Ami­tava Roy de­liv­ered their verdict in a 21-year-old case of dis­pro­por­tion­ate as­sets against Sasikala and the AIADMK’s late leader J. Jay­alalithaa. Up­hold­ing the trial court’s con­vic­tion or­der of Septem­ber 27, 2014, Sasikala and two of her fam­ily mem­bers were found guilty and sen­tenced to jail, shat­ter­ing what­ever suc­ces­sion plans she had for the AIADMK.

A day later, Sasikala sur­ren­dered be­fore a spe­cial court within Ben­galuru’s Parap­pana Agra­hara jail, her home for the next four years. The in­ter­ven­ing hours be­fore she left for Ben­galuru were spent in the com­pany of party leg­is­la­tors and loy­al­ists at the Golden Bay Re­sort at Koo­vathur, some 80 km from Chennai (where they were cooped up since in­terim chief min­is­ter O. Pan­neer­sel­vam’s re­bel­lion). Sasikala was show­ing lit­tle signs of re­lent­ing or re­morse. In a des­per­ate bid to hold on to the party reins, even by re­mote, she ex­pelled OPS (as Pan­neer­sel­vam is com­monly known) and 19 other lead­ers of his fac­tion from the party and named Edap­padi K. Palanisamy leader of the leg­is­la­ture party and chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date. Sasikala also re-in­ducted two oth­ers into the party—nephew T.V.V. Dinakaran (as deputy gen­eral sec­re­tary) and her brother’s son-in-law S. Venkatesh, who had been ex­pelled by Jay­alalithaa in 2011—stun­ning the AIADMK cadre in the process.

The lat­est de­vel­op­ments have only added to the un­cer­tainty that grips the party rank and file, al­ready reel­ing from fac­tional strife among party MLAs over who should be chief min­is­ter. For the party’s MPs, their con­cerns are dif­fer­ent. With Lok Sabha polls barely two years away, and

wide­spread pub­lic anger against Sasikala, they reckon there is no hope of re­turn­ing to power in her com­pany.

The on­go­ing strife brings to mind the go­ings-on of 1987 and the AIADMK split af­ter party founder M.G. Ra­machan­dran passed away. It was only af­ter the merger of the two fac­tions and an elec­tion de­ba­cle in 1989 that the party swept the polls in 1991 to es­tab­lish it­self as a se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal con­tender un­der Jay­alalithaa’s lead­er­ship. Now, Tamil Nadu pol­i­tics is un­der­go­ing an­other tur­bu­lent tran­si­tion.

Pick­ing Palanisamy, a party veteran of equal stand­ing to OPS, is a shrewd move by Sasikala. He is from the in­flu­en­tial, landown­ing Gounder com­mu­nity of western Tamil Nadu, a dom­i­nant pres­ence among AIADMK MLAs. Also, no Gounder has been chief min­is­ter till now which should shore up party sup­port in the re­gion. But then there’s a flip side—the party’s tra­di­tional The­var caste co­hort, to which both Sasikala and OPS be­long, may not take to this too kindly.

And it’s not like she had much choice in the mat­ter, hav­ing al­ready made an­other veteran, K.A. Sen­got­taiyan, also a Gounder, the party pre­sid­ium chair­man. DMK’s im­proved strength in the cur­rent assem­bly im­plies that Pan­neer­sel­vam needs just 18 MLAs to bring the AIADMK be­low the half­way mark in the assem­bly, but at the risk of his ginger group be­ing dis­qual­i­fied. It will have to be at least 90-strong if it is to evade the anti-de­fec­tion law.

The wide­spread pub­lic sup­port for OPS is be­cause of the grow­ing re­vul­sion for Sasikala and her fam­ily (the ‘Man­nar­gudi mafia’) which had tight­ened its grip on the party post-Jay­alalithaa. “The Supreme Court verdict has pos­si­bly staved off prospects of what would have been an in­suf­fer­able oli­garchy,” says ex-bu­reau­crat M.G. Devasa­hayam of the Fo­rum for Elec­toral In­tegrity. BJP na­tional gen­eral sec­re­tary and Tamil Nadu in-charge P. Mu­ralid­har Rao says, “Sasikala’s at­tempt to prop up a proxy will not help the party win the peo­ple’s trust. She does not en­joy the same level of pub­lic endorsement as Jay­alalithaa does.” (In­ter­est­ingly, the saf­fron party too has taken some flak in all this. The fact that Dr V. Maitreyan, the first AIADMK MP, and K. Pan­di­ara­jan, the first min­is­ter, to de­fect to the OPS camp were once with the BJP raised many eye­brows about the rul­ing party in New Delhi play­ing a murky role.)


TWO FACES Sasikala (left) vis­its Jaya’s me­mo­rial be­fore go­ing to Ben­galuru to serve her sen­tence, Feb. 15, 2017; O. Pan­neer­sel­vam meets the press at his home the same day

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