Political instability and a split in AIADMK make 2017 similar to 1988. But will President's rule follow this time?

1988 and 2017 AIADMK in disarray once again will DMK have the last laughPTI
news Politics Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 09:43

For two months, the AIADMK remained a party united following the demise of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The cracks that appeared during her 75-day hospitalisation were glossed over. The ruling party under the orders of Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala appeared to have learned from the past and was determined to ensure that history does not repeat itself.  

But the events over the last 10 days have effectively scattered all the stepping stones to Sasikala’s elevation as Chief minister. Loyalist turned ‘betrayer’ O Panneerselvam’s rebellion followed by the Supreme Court’s conviction of Sasikala and her relatives Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran has left the two-leaves party split.

As the fighting factions continue to slug it out, demanding that the Governor swear in their respective leader, there is a sense of deja-vu setting in. The 45-year-old party, after all, witnessed an epic battle following its founder and then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran’s death in December 1987.  

Unlike today, the battle between MGR’s wife Janaki and his leading lady Jayalalithaa commenced no sooner than the day of his death. Several MLAs, senior party leaders and cadres were quick to pick sides. Sasikala may have even picked a leaf out of Janaki’s book by packing off over 100 MLAs to Golden Bay Resorts in Koovathur. Janaki had then checked-in several MLAs at a star hotel in Chennai, even as 30 MLAs pledging support to Jayalalithaa were packed off to a hotel in Indore.

Senior journalist GC Shekhar observes that the political instability in Tamil Nadu and the split in the AIADMK are what make 2017 similar to 1988. But he argues that there are differences in the political situation today. While Janaki’s faction had 97 MLAs and were banking on Congress’ support in the Assembly, Jayalalithaa had 32 legislators on her side.  “Now the numbers appear to be with Sasikala. Panneerselvam should hope to get 10-20 MLAs to deny her the numbers,” says Shekhar.

But perhaps the most striking difference between then and now is the role of the Governor. While Governor Vidyasagar Rao has received criticism from several quarters for first delaying in Sasikala’s swearing-in, Governor SL Khurana chose to swear-in Janaki two weeks after MGR’s death. “The Governor had then summoned every MLA and checked their credentials. That can’t happen now. A swearing-in is unlikely. They will mostly go for a composite floor test, where there will be a secret ballot. There will be two boxes and MLAs will be asked to choose. This will be a first for the Tamil Nadu Assembly,” explains Shekhar.  

But as the ruling AIADMK finds itself in disarray, the question is, will it be the opposition DMK that has the last laugh?

A source in the DMK believes that like 1988, President’s rule is imminent. “None of the factions have the numbers to form the government. They can have President’s rule for a maximum of one year and then have election,” the source said.

On the day of the Janaki government’s vote-of-confidence, pandemonium broke out in the Assembly. The Congress that had initially promised to back MGR’s wife’s faction turned neutral in the eleventh hour. 

In Vaasanthi’s Amma: Jayalalithaa’s journey from Movie Star to Political Queen¸ she describes the scene of the House in 1988:

“On that day there was absolute pandemonium in the Assembly on account of the Speaker showing open support to Janaki’s side. Several members angrily protested against this open flouting of rules. Suddenly some goondas entered the house and started beating up the pro-Jayalalithaa group and the Congress MLAs. During the rampage someone alerted the police. For the first time in the history of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the police entered the legislative house and lathi-charged MLAs.”

Following Jayalalithaa’s demands, the Governor dismissed the Janaki government, with President’s Rule imposed until elections in January 1989.

Dismissing speculation of the DMK providing outside support to OPS’s faction, the source says, “Our plan is to wait and watch. We are not hungry, we don’t want to do anything rash. We want to make the public more aggregable to the DMK.”

If neither OPS nor Edappadi Palaniswami are able to. muster up the magic figure of 117 to form government, it could very well be advantage DMK in the event of a re-election.

“This time the DMK is stronger with 89 seats in the Assembly. There was a 5-lakh vote difference between the AIADMK and the DMK in the 2016 election. The AIADMK doesn’t have Jayalalithaa now but a discredited General Secretary. The party has no major allies. The Congress was its ally in 1989 but the party’s bankability is down. If there is a re-election it will be a straight fight between DMK and the two AIADMK factions,” observes GC Shekhar.

As the DMK waits in the wings, all eyes are on Governor Vidyasagar Rao. Whether history will indeed repeat itself is based on the Governor’s next move.