The Chinnamma of Tamil Nadu

“The nomination of Sasikala Natarajan, a close confidant of the late J Jayalalithaa as the interim general secretary of the AIADMK on Thursday was along expected lines. It was smooth affair and the odd minor glitch, if any, did not cast a shadow on the Dravidian party’s general council proceedings in elevating Sasikala. What tilted the scales in her favour was her closeness to Amma as the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was known. Interestingly, present chief minister O Panneerselvam as the only other contender for the party post backed Sasikala or Chinnamma (younger mother). In a cult based party this was the only option to avoid a split which would have been disastrous. It is well known that Sasikala lacks popular appeal as evidenced in the case of Amma. Chinnamma dabbled in backroom politics even as Jayalalithaa refused to build a second line of leadership in the AIADMK. Sasikala was not given a party post by Jayalalithaa to keep in check another authority being developed. This facilitated Amma in keeping her cadres united. Sasikala gained confidence running the AIADMK in Jayalalithaa’s name when the supremo had to remain absent from public view because of spells in jail and hospital due to illness. Amma was also missing from public view during campaigning in April-May this year compelling Sasikala to convey her orders to the party rank and file. By doing so ensured Amma’s pre-eminence as the supremo of the AIADMK. Not just that no one dared to question her undisputed status of being the numero uno in the regional party. However, the fact that Sasikala lived in the sprawling Poes garden residence of Jayalaithaa gave her the authority. What cannot be lost sight of is that the party’s problems might have just begun. The authority of Panneerselvam as the chief minister might be undermined. It is no secret that several ministers and others have asked Sasikala to take over as the chief minister. Impartial observers believe the post might well be hers as most of the legislators are backing her and Panneerselvam is unlikely to offer resistance at least at this juncture. At the same time Sasikala is an accused in the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa and awaiting judgement in the Supreme Court after a conviction by the trial court. In the wake of the searches in the residential and office premises of Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao by IncomeTax and Enforcement Directorate authorities, questions have arisen about the involvement of the higher ups in the AIADMK in corruption. Under these circumstances Sasikala can find herself on a sticky wicket if she makes an overambitious pitch for the chief ministership. She has never contested an election for public office so far. Interestingly she was not present at the AIADMK’s general council meeting and the decision taken there was conveyed to her by a group of ministers and other senior party leaders. According to Rule 20, Section 2 of the party bye laws stipulates that eligible candidates should have been a member of the party for at least five years. Sasikala who was expelled in 2011 rejoined the party in 2012. She has not completed the necessary five-year term.  This is for the first time in the history of the AIADMK that one person is not occupying both the posts of chief minister and general secretary. The void created by Jayalalithaa’s death is not easy to fill. In the circumstances it can trigger changes in the political landscape of Tamil Nadu.  What cannot be lost sight of is that there are already murmurs in the AIADMK about a section being opposed to Sasikala. Arch rival DMK views the churning going on in the AIADMK as an opportunity to make a comeback after losing out to Amma for two consecutive terms in 2011 and in 2016. In all this the BJP believes it has an opportunity to enlarge its presence not just in Tamil Nadu but generally in the country’s South contributing 130 seats in the Lok Sabha. ( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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