CHINNAMMA CHECKMATED?

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Amar­nath K. Menon

In an­other twist to an al­ready tor­tu­ous nar­ra­tive, AIAD-MK MLAs met on April 18 to oust Sasikala, their party's cur­rently im­pris­oned in­terim gen­eral sec­re­tary, and T.T.V. Dina,karan, her ap­par­ently cor­rupt nephew and deputy. "We are go­ing to side­line the Di nakaran fam­ily for the ben­e­fit of the party," says Tamil Nadu fi­nance min­is­ter D. Jayaku­mar, though like many oth­ers in the AIADMK, he had once en­dorsed Di nakaran's me­te­oric el­e­va­tion. But the sit­u­a­tion had be­come un­ten­able, as MLAs grew ap­pre­hen-sive about the fu­ture of the AIADMK govern­ment when the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion can­celled the April 12 by­poll in RK Na­gar, the for­mer con­stituency of Jay­alalithaa, who died in De­cem­ber 2016, leav­ing her party, and con­se­quently the state, rud­der­less. There was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence, the EC de­cided af­ter in-come tax raids on state min­is­ters, that bribery was ram­pant. Di­nakaran was ac­cused of spend­ing nearly Its 90 crore to buy votes. He had al­ready been ac­cused of be­ing will­ing to pay up to Rs 50 crore to per­suade EC of­fi­cials to rule in the AIAD-MK's favour in the dis­pute over the party's 'two leaves' sym­bol.

The dis­pute was be­tween the party led by Sasikala, Chinnamma to those who saw in her a suc­ces­sor to their beloved Amma, and the break­away fac­tion led by O. Pan­neer­sel­vam

(OPS), who was de­clared chief min­is­ter upon her death. Hav­ing stood by as his col­leagues clam­oured for Sasikala to take on Jay­alalithaa’s man­tle, he staged a star­tling about-face in Fe­bru­ary, claim­ing he had been forced by Sasikala to re­sign. In the end, OPS did not have the num­bers. The Supreme Court, then, made its own dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion, sen­tenc­ing Sasikala to four years in prison for cor­rup­tion, ef­fec­tively scup­per­ing her bid to be CM.

Now, OPS and chief min­is­ter E.K. Palanisamy are in talks to re­unite the party. They recog­nise the AIADMK is in dire straits. At least four min­is­ters are be­ing tracked for il­le­gal cash trans­ac­tions af­ter de­mon­eti­sa­tion. Tax in­spec­tors found Rs 152 crore in the homes of min­is­ters and their aides.

For OPS it be­came a point of prin­ci­ple that any rap­proche­ment with the AIADMK would side­line Sasikala and her rel­a­tives, the so-called ‘Man­nar­gudi mafia’. Af­ter the an­nounce­ment

With Jaya gone, find­ing com­mon ground is a big ask

that Sasikala and Di­nakaran would be kept from govern­ment and from play­ing any role in the party, OPS pro­nounced it the “first step in our dharma yud­dha (fight for jus­tice)”.

Di­nakaran ap­pears to have ac­cepted his fate, but the AIADMK has much work ahead to unite the party. For a start, who will be its leader? Will it be OPS, who Jay­alalithaa chose thrice as her stand-in and who claims to have the back­ing of the Cen­tral govern­ment? Oth­ers within the AIADMK, notwith­stand­ing the Dra­vid­ian ide­ol­ogy of work­ing to­wards a caste­less so­ci­ety, count it as an as­set that Palanisamy rep­re­sents the Gounders caste.

Find­ing com­mon ground in a party no longer held to­gether by Jay­alalithaa’s charisma and force of will is a tough task. But, since no AIADMK leg­is­la­tor wants to risk an early elec­tion, a way will have to be found to prop up the govern­ment. Even ri­vals DMK will not wel­come the ex­pense of an­other elec­tion. But the Tamil Nadu govern­ment needs to re­store its cred­i­bil­ity soon or risk los­ing the con­fi­dence and pa­tience of an in­creas­ingly restive public.

JAISON G A TO­GETHER WE CAN O. Pan nee rselva m (left) with chief min­is­ter E.K. Palanisamy

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