Between BJP and OPS, it may not be easy for Sasikala to take over Tamil Nadu

It is not as simple as just saying, ‘The Queen is dead, long live the Queen’.
Between BJP and OPS, it may not be easy for Sasikala to take over Tamil Nadu
Between BJP and OPS, it may not be easy for Sasikala to take over Tamil Nadu
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How close is Vivekanandam Krishnaveni Sasikala to the key post of the General Secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)?

She is almost there, many contend. At the general council meet of the party to be held in Chennai on Thursday, she is likely to be elected to the job unanimously. It could be preceded by a resolution sorting out some technical glitches in the way of her election.

But does it mean she becomes the supremo, like her boss Jayalalithaa, and goes on to become the Chief Minister as well? That is a million-dollar question indeed. Some even claim she might refuse to accept the responsibility, on some glib pretext or other, forcing some interim arrangement – she is in no hurry and would bide her time is the argument. Anyway, the tenure of the AIADMK government runs to another four-and-a-half years.

But contrary to earlier expectations, Sasikala and her clan, especially her husband Natarajan, are finding it difficult to make their way through. They seem to be realizing that in the case of pretenders, it is not as simple as just saying, ‘The Queen is dead, long live the Queen’.

For one, the BJP is not playing ball. The Rama Mohana Rao-related raids have certainly sent jitters in the Sasikala camp, for the former Chief Secretary is even seen as a clan-nominee. So crippling him and replacing him as well is seen as a check on their vaulting ambitions.

And when Rao fumes, “Where is the state government? What right did the central government have to enter my office? They would not have dared to do this if former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was alive,” possibly it is the Sasikala clan that is venting its ire against both the Centre and Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS).

He could be seen as far more pliable than Sasikala by various interest groups within the AIADMK, but then his Mukkulathor community folks are quite overweening and have seldom endeared themselves to anyone. Perhaps, he is emboldened by the open hostility among some sections of the party cadres towards Sasikala. The wannabe Chief Minister kept away from the MGR memorial the other day, and some have interpreted it to mean she was scared there could be backlash from those workers who suspect murder most foul.

The AIADMK cadres are quite a passionate lot, and they take it out on anyone they are upset with. Subramaniam Swamy had to face some ugly moments in the High Court complex in the nineties, and even Karunanidhi was barracked when he went to the memorial as Chief Minister in 1989 – the expletives spat out were unspeakable. Sasikala should have remembered the scene with some trepidation when she chose not to go. Even her husband didn’t dare, let alone anyone from the rest of her clan. One report has it that no pictures of Sasikala or memorabilia bearing her image are on sale at the Jayalalithaa memorial as vendors are scared angry crowds might have a go at them.

It is such a situation that the BJP is seeking to exploit to its advantage, and Panneerselvam could be a willing pawn in their hands. He is of course not known for muscle-flexing, or even being ambitious for that matter, and hence he was chosen by Jayalalithaa herself to stand in for her twice. Those times he would consciously avoid all display of power and would wade through crowds to call on his leader. And he is beholden to TTV Dhinakaran of the clan for his rise.

Still, even a worm turns after all, even if it doesn’t, a straw could do the job. When powerful central agencies are at it, OPS could be beginning to wonder why he shouldn’t assert himself.

For all the daily tamasha of party functionaries and cadres trooping in to press ‘Chinnaamma’ to take over the party and the government, her capabilities remain unknown. The party might be strong, boasting of thousands of dedicated workers. But for that to translate into votes, one needs charisma in a big measure. Whether Sasikala has it is a moot point.

The general reading it there is just nobody who has even one-fourth of the popularity quotient of Jayalalithaa, and so the party will fade away in due course. More importantly, in the next assembly elections, it will have little option but to join hands with the BJP, hoping Modi’s own stocks plus its cadre strength could together have some impact.

If the AIADMK leaders too read the situation that way and believe that OPS is enjoying the support of the Centre in full, they might hesitate to pull the carpet under him. He himself might not mind her becoming the General Secretary, but not vacate his seat for her or even prostrate as he used to before Jayalalithaa.

In any case, the disproportionate wealth case is waiting to be disposed of by the Supreme Court. Whether the case will abate with the death of the first accused or the judges will hold the rest guilty of conspiracy to defraud the state remains to be seen. If Sasikala is convicted, all the well-laid plans will go awry.

Meantime Deepa, Jayalaithaa’s niece, is threatening to throw a spanner or two in the works – she might carry little weight in the party, but as a legal heir, she has enormous leverage and might even succeed in evicting Sasikala from the Poes Garden itself. She can of course be intimidated into quiescence, but that takes some effort.

So it will be a while before Natarajan can strut around as the spouse of the First Lady of the state. Whether he will meet the same fate as Bill Clinton, one has to wait and see. Nothing is sealed and delivered at the moment. 

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