Faces of change
When J Jayalalithaa was alive, hers was the only image that dominated hoardings and banners put up by partymen at any event the AIADMK supremo attended, however few and far between they may have been.
Those celebrating her presence at the event would relegate themselves to a corner of the hoarding or banner. Their objective: to reaffirm their loyalty to ‘Amma’ or to get back into her good books if they had fallen out of favour.
What also mattered was where the hoarding had come up. The most preferred point was the Music Academy junction, which fell on Jayalalithaa’s route if she were to travel from her Poes Garden residence to the Secretariat.
Following Amma’s death, Sasikala, for a brief while, dominated the city’s hoardings-scape. ‘Chinnamma’ was Amma’s trusted companion, and hence ‘legitimate successor’. Following her conviction in a corruption case and subsequent imprisonment in a Bengaluru jail, Sasikala dropped out of sight. Her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran, who was anointed party deputy general secretary just before Sasikala drove to Bengaluru to surrender before prison officials, gained prominence in the hoardings, also because he was the AIADMK’s candidate from the RK Nagar seat, which fell vacant after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016.
The AIADMK then split into two factions, one headed by Dhinakaran and the other by O Panneerselvam, who rebelled against Sasikala and claimed that he had been forced to step down as Chief Minister.
Since then, the AIADMK has not been the party it was: an outfit controlled by a supreme leader with an iron hand. It split into three factions – one led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, another by Panneerselvam, and yet another by Dhinakaran. The factions led by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam have now come together. Panneerselvam is now Deputy CM and coordinator of the party, and Palaniswami a joint coordinator.
Panneerselvam, who maintained a low profile even when he stood in as chief minister for Jayalalithaa, and for a brief period after her death, was prominent on posters when it was announced that he would be Palaniswami’s deputy.
Now, too, the hoarding that catches everyone’s eye at the Music Academy signal, has Jayalalithaa cast prominently, along with her “two eyes”: Palaniswami and Panneerselvam. In a party where posters and hoardings matter, there is no stronger message that can be conveyed to the party faithful than describing the CM and his deputy as the eyes of the departed party supremo. As the fighting with the Dhinakaran faction intensifies, the poster war also promises to ratchet up.
When Jayalalithaa was alive, you could see traffic policemen in full strength line up only when she left her residence. Each one would take up positions at intervals of 10 feet. Then they went missing. But over the last few days, the cops are back on the road, especially on the one leading to the Secretariat. Is there a message being conveyed? One doesn’t know. But conversations with those in the government and outside almost always boil down to “what will happen”, referring to whether the government will last and, if so, how much longer.
Things continue to be in limbo as the two AIADMK factions engage in sabre-rattling and a war of attrition. The DMK has petitioned Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao for the Assembly to be convened and the Palaniswami government to seek a fresh vote of confidence. Tamil Nadu still does not have a full-time Governor. Ch Vidyasagar Rao, who is Maharashtra Governor, has been holding additional charge of the State for almost a year now.
A banner put up by AIADMK workers to welcome Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy CM O Panneerselvam to the party headquarters, in Chennai