After Amma, it is Chinamma as top leader of AIADMK
Nearly two weeks after Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa died, her close confidant of past several decades Sasikala Natarajan is all set to take over as chief of the AIADMK party.
The decision to appoint Sasikala as AIADMK General Secretary was taken after a wide cross section of the party expressed the desire for her to lead the party, seeing in her a look-alike image of Jayalalithaa ""Amma"" and also as one who was her conscience keeper despite several highs and lows.
Once considered a rank outsider, Sasikala, fondly called Chinamma (Amma's younger sister) is the right choice to step into Amma's shoes. She will first be made the all powerful general secretary of the party before displacing incumbent chief minister O Paneerselvam. It is seen as a masterstroke of political manoeuvring.
Is this what Amma would have wanted following her death. That is anybody's guess. The ministers and Amma's legion of admirers have suddenly found in Sasikala or ""Chinamma or younger mother"" shades of Jayalalithaa. They believe she is the right choice to carry forward the legacy of Amma having run the AIADMK with an iron grip and taking all the decisions for no less than 27.
No mean record this even though it appears to be a mere formality for the General Council of the AIADMK to formalise Sasikala's status as the numero uno of the party which in turn ensures her elevation as chief ministership.
Given the cult status of Jayalalithaa in the AIADMK, there were questions initially about ""who after amma?"" The answer to that was hazy though an internal tussle for the leadership stakes was not entirely ruled out. For all practical intents and purposes the transition is expected to be a smooth affair as evidenced so far.
Certain sections of the party have suggested that the post of general secretary of the AIADMK held by Jayalalithaa should remain with the late Amma for all time to come. Deep down all AIADMK watchers have lingering doubts if Sasikala can ensure Amma's vice like grip over the party. There is speculation that the general secretary's post can be redesignated as ""Additional general secretary"" or what have you which again will be decided by the General Council of the party which is expected to meet soon.
AIADMK spokesperson C Ponnaiyan made it clear ""we will elect a person who takes care of the cadres and follows Amma's footsteps."" The party has made it clear that ""in terms of calibre Ms Natarajan fits that bill.""
With the political situation in Tamil Nadu undergoing some queer twists and turns, the Centre with the BJP in the vanguard is reportedly calling the shots in a determined bid to keep the AIADMK united. The lotus party's strategists believe it has a great opportunity to enlarge its sphere of influence in the country's south.
Jayalalithaa was not only a shrewd politician but held sway over the masses. If she felt having an understanding with any party irrespective of the stature of the leader did not suit the interests of the southern state she just severed ties without batting an eyelid.
A case in point is when BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister for the first time heading a 26-party disparate coalition, Jayalalithaa resolved to part ways in 1998 after being with them for 13 months as they failed to withdraw the corruption cases against her.
The AIADMK is at the crossroads as never before hugely handicapped as it lacked a leader of Jayalalithaa's eminence and charisma. The political vacuum in the AIADMK has virtually catapulted ""chinna Amma"" in replacing Amma. Saikala's husband Natarajan has played his part in ensuring his wife becomes the chief minister.
With Jayalalithaa securing a second consecutive term in office at Fort St George earlier this year in May, the DMK acknowledged ""Amma will never be forgotten in the state."" The wily DMK patriarch and former chief minister M Karunanidhi and his aides are trying to induce defections of no less than twenty AIADMK MLAs so that the ruling party becomes a minority in the 234-member state assembly.
In a coup of sorts well past midnight on December fifth when Jayalalithaa was declared dead, Sasikala managed to secure the signature of all the 136 party MLAs on a blank sheet of paper. This paves the way for her becoming the general secretary of the AIADMK.
Being a personality based party thanks to former chief minister M G Ramachandran who broke away from the DMK and formed the AIADMK, it has deliberately ignored developing a second rung leadership. Appeal for votes during elections are made by the leader who is idolised by the party's supporters. The AIADMK has four-and-a-half years remaining before completing its five year term in 2021. The die hard supporters of Amma insist there is no substitute or replacement for Jayalalithaa.
The Lotus party's advantage stems from the AIADMK being rudderless. The Sasikala-Natarajan duo are hoping to cash in on the prevailing situation of flux. This has been bolstered with chief minister Paneerselvam and all the other ministers eating out of Sasikala's hands.
The Lotus party's presence in the Lok Sabha from the country's south having a tally of 130 seats is dismal. The AIADMK's combined strength in the two Houses of Parliament is an eye popping 50. It will be to the Centre's advantage not to disturb the status quo in the AIADMK at least till the crucial election of the President is completed. The term of the incumbent Head of State Pranab Mukherjee ends in July next year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen that a ruling BJP stalwart is installed in Rashtrapati Bhawan for the first time. For this he needs to shore up the votes in the electoral college which elects the President. The BJP is nowhere in power in the south comprising Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana along with the lone union territory of Puducherry.
The BJP is also handicapped because of being in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. What is of significance is that the saffron brigade needs to win big in the most crucial assembly elections in UP early next year.
They appear to be on shaky ground for the moment because of the problems connected with the big ticket demonetisation on the night of eighth December. Sasikala is hoping to contest from Amma's constituency of R K Nagar in the state capital. This will be her real test. The imponderables in this daring and brazen gambit can also dash Sasikala's hopes. That is when the chances of all hell breaking lose and the AIADMK splitting cannot be ruled out.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha M Thambi Durai has lost out to Sasikala in becoming the general secretary of the AIADMK. They want him to continue in the national capital because of his contacts with the central leadership. The prospects of his induction in Modi's cabinet cannot be ruled out as it will send an unambiguous signal that the Centre will protect the interests of Tamil Nadu.
During her reign, Jayalalithaa preferred the dominant Gounder community members as ministers in her cabinet. They hail from western Tamil Nadu and have taken a march over the others like the Thevars, Nadars, Vanniyars and Dalits.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal.)"