History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce, said Karl Marx.
Whether the happenings in the last two months, since the passing of AIADMK’s tall leader J Jayalalitha, count as tragedy or farce, they have all the trappings of a comic opera.
We have VK Sasikala, waiting like a bride for the ceremonial day and an ousted Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, ever the best man and never the groom saying, “No way”.
Governor Vidyasagar Rao, acting like the priest in a church wedding, is announcing banns (advance notices for marriages) for three Sundays, and inviting objections from the people.
Caught in the cross-currents are the bewildered ruling party MLAs, who like Jerry Lewis, are asking, “Which way to the front?”
A nice mess of pottage.
With the absentee Governor hastily accepting Panneerselvam’s resignation and then wondering how to stall the duly elected AIADMK legislature party leader Sasikala, we have a constitutional deadlock that only Rao can end.
He cannot reinstate Panneerselvam, though OPS now says he was forced to put in his papers and wants to withdraw it. And with the Supreme Court’s verdict in the assets case hanging over Sasikala’s head, the Governor has painted himself into a corner through his studied inaction acting, possibly at the behest of Union Minister Rajnath Singh.
Result, a peculiar situation Tamil Nadu has not seen before.
We have a caretaker Chief Minister without a Cabinet of Ministers, since they do not report to him. We have a CM-in-waiting who suspects that the BJP, though she finds politically convenient to blame the DMK, is fishing in troubled waters. So has herded MLAs loyal to her to beach resorts dotting the East Coast Road in a couple of luxury buses, to prevent poaching.
And when the buses stop at the Greenways Road residence of Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy, a wavering MLA sneaks out and lands in Panneerselvam’s house.
It has all happened before.
The AIADMK split after its founder MGR’s death in December 1987, with 95 MLAs in Veerappan’s hands throwing in their lot with MGR’s wife and political greenhorn Janaki, and 35 or so choosing to remain with Jayalalithaa.
Neither Janaki nor Jayalalithaa was a member of the Assembly. Just as Sasikala is not a member now.
While Veerappan put up the MLAs in a star hotel in the city, Jaya’s then right hand S Thirunavukkarasar took the Jayalalithaa loyalists on what we in the media then called “a Bharat darshan”.
Their final destination was Nandi Hills near Bangalore, as it was called then.
When the then Governor SL Khurana, a retired IAS cadre officer and a stickler for constitutional norms, invited the two factions to show their strength, Veerappan paraded his supporters at the Raj Bhavan. Jaya did not do that because she knew she did not have the numbers on her side.
Khurana called Janaki to form the government in 1988. It lasted barely a couple of weeks.
When the Assembly met to vote on the confidence motion, the Jaya faction created a ruckus, leading to bedlam. The then Speaker P H Pandian, in an unprecedented move, called in the police to lathicharge the errant members. After the dissident MLAs were thrown out, he called for a vote and Janaki was declared to have won it, with the DMK abstaining.
The same Governor promptly dismissed the Janaki Government, calling the vote a farcical exercise.
It took another two years for Jaya to come to power as the split into Jaya and Janaki factions enabled the DMK to power in February 1989, after a gap of 13 years.
Using puppet Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar, Rajiv Gandhi got the Karunanidhi government dismissed in January 1991. The AIADMK aligned with the Congress. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE generated a sympathy wave which catapulted Jaya to power and led to the decimation of the DMK, with Karunanidhi emerging as the only leader. He vacated his seat. Then Parithi Ilamvazhuthi got elected from Egmore and remained the sole representative of the DMK during the turbulent years of Jaya rule between 1991 and 96. He is now in the AIADMK.
The challenge to Sasikala’s elevation is not as fierce as it was for Jayalalithaa. This is also one of the reasons for the resentment her detractors feel, because she expects to get power handed to her on a platter.
After the first split, Janaki had the MLAs with her but Jaya had the support of the rank and file, and eventually, the people as MGR’s chosen heir-apparent.
Now, Sasikala has the support of 128 out of the 135 MLAs. But Paneerselvam enjoys the support of the rank and file and the public.
Now that the Governor is expected to return to Chennai this evening, the drama is moving to the climax.
The Governor may go through the elaborate process of consultations with the MLAs and with Sasikala and Panneerselvam before taking a call, hoping that the SC will decide the issue for him.