When MGR died in 1987, the politics played over his dead body were not very pleasant. At the receiving end of misogyny, violence and a power-struggle was Jayalalithaa, though she eventually benefitted from the events immediately after MGR’s death.
It is evident that, even if there were some mild parallels between what happened then and what is happening now, lessons have been learned from 1987 and Sasikala has put them in play to her benefit.
MGR died on December 24, 1987. His death triggered a power struggle within the AIADMK, with the party being split into two camps – one aligning behind MGR’s wife Janaki and the other behind Jayalalithaa.
While Jayalalithaa did receive considerable popular support and sympathy – especially since she was abused, insulted and physically hurt during MGR’s funeral procession – Janaki walked away with the key leaders and MLAs.
Several key leaders of the MGR cabinet like KP Ramalingam and RM Veerappan chose to throw their weight behind Janaki’s.
Vaasanthi writes in her book, “Ninety-seven MLAs of the AIADMK signed a memorandum supporting Janaki and submitted it to S.L. Khurana, the Governor, who then invited Janaki to form the government. Janaki was sworn in as the chief minister on 7 January 1988.”
Similarly, several key leaders now, including TN CM O Panneerselvam, Sengottaiyan, Saidai Duraisamy and Thambidurai, are in favour of Sasikala taking forward the legacy of Jayalalithaa as the General Secretary of the party. On Saturday, Jaya TV beamed visuals of AIADMK leaders pleading in front of Sasikala to lead the party.
In 1987, the feeling amongst several grassroots-level soldiers was that Jayalalithaa was in a better position to take the legacy of MGR forward, not Janaki. Similarly, there is considerable discontent among the party cadre with the decision of ministers and leaders to back Sasikala. Workers and foot soldiers of the AIADMK are extremely unhappy with the way the Sasikala family was given importance during the funeral and public homage.
The big difference between now and 1987, however, is that there is no alternative. Sasikala is the single strongest candidate to take the party forward. No other leader has tried to, and perhaps never will, tap into the popular discontent against her. The murmurs against Sasikala remain at the ground level.
Leaders like OPS and Thambidurai, who have some standing of their own, have sided with Sasikala.
While Janaki could never prove her strength on the floor of the Assembly, and Jayalalithaa managed to use the ruckus in the Assembly to get the government in Tamil Nadu dismissed, it is highly likely the government will continue in its present form for some time to come.
And till an alternative emerges, it is unlikely that Sasikala’s stand will be aggressively questioned. Jayalalithaa's niece Deepa Jayakumar has thrown her hat into the ring, but being a novice, the realistic chance of her posing a serious threat is dim.