The current turmoil within the ruling AIADMK is certainly a legacy of the recently deceased Jayalalithaa.
She didn’t care to designate anyone as her heir apparent, though she should have been fully aware of the fragility of her health.
One is only reminded of “Après moi le deluge,” that is, “after me the deluge”. The statement, generally attributed to King Louis XVI, could be interpreted to mean either that he wanted disaster to follow his death, or that the man didn’t care one bit for what was in store.
World over, leaders seldom bother to groom a successor – a most obvious reason being the fear that the chosen one could upstage the mentor themselves. Was Jawaharlal Nehru himself not guilty on that score? To be charitable, he couldn’t find one or, to lambast him, he was too megalomaniacal.
Clearly, Jayalalithaa was suspicious of the vaulting ambitions of everyone around her, especially Sasikala’s clan, who are known for their rapacity.
Right from the time she was inducted into the AIADMK by MGR, she smelt conspiracy in every development to checkmate her own growth. She kept nagging him to declare her the future leader. Though he had dragged her out of hibernation with the hope that her glamour could help the party at the hustings when his health was becoming worrisome, he was equally worried of her arrogant ways, and her delusions of grandeur. He would keep chopping and changing the party executive to please her now and then, but she didn’t have everything her way.
At the All World MGR Fans’ conference (yeah, he had one such event, seriously!) at Madurai in 1986, MGR was expected to make the historic announcement, but she had to content herself with the honour of presenting a scepter to the party leader, though later on she would make it look as if it was MGR who was presenting it to her, thus in effect passing on the baton.
Anyway, MGR disappointed her and the media at large by studiously refusing to name her at all in his concluding speech, and Ammu (as Jayalalithaa was fondly called by him) left Madurai in a huff, instead of accompanying him as originally planned.
The inner party tussle continued when MGR died, after which, thanks to a series of remarkable turn of events, she succeeded in capturing the party leadership.
At the time, I remember asking a senior commentator close to MGR, “Why was it that he left things like this? In a limbo, as it were? He could have easily announced either Jayalalithaa, RM Veerappan or Kalimuthu, anyone, anyone as his heir, not many would have protested… But he didn’t. Why was it so?”
Pat came the response, “Simple, he didn’t want to nominate anyone because he didn’t t want the party to survive him at all. He died and with him the party, he wanted history to say…”
He said so in all seriousness, not cracking jokes as was the commentator’s wont. I couldn’t pursue the conversation as we were interrupted by something. But the narcissistic streak was not a sufficient rationale in itself, after all it was MGR who had brought in an unwilling Jayalalithaa. Simply, he should have been dismayed by her quirks - his were fine, but not hers!
As for the disciple herself, even though she was a novice and was desperately dependent on seniors to plot her moves in the initial days of the AIADMK split after MGR’s death, she didn’t trust anyone, her mind possibly poisoned by the wily M Natarajan (Sasikala’s husband and her advisor at the time). When four veterans quit in disgust, she dubbed them “fallen hair.” (sic)
Yet again, when a Tamil magazine survey named Thirunavukkarasu, a close associate of hers and who had played a key role in consolidating her position, as the most popular leader in the party, next only to Jayalalithaa herself, he was promptly expelled. He was never rehabilitated. (He is presently heading the Tamil Nadu Congress, but is said to be close to Sasikala’s husband.)
As her confidence in herself increased and she kept winning elections, Natarajan too was thrown out, and she would hurl scurrilous abuse at him, even while his wife continued to be her aide at Veda Nilayam.
Sasikala being exiled twice, her undertaking not to let her extended family damage the party’s reputation and return to favour, is all recent history. Much as she depended on Sasikala for a whole host of things, they indeed enjoyed a special chemistry.
She never allowed her any position in the party, and her clan had to satisfy themselves with whatever they could extract through their crafty maneuvers.
Jayalalithaa’s health issues - knee-related problems, diabetes and cholesterol - were all widely known, and so was her inability to stick to a healthy regimen. Predictably the end was swift. Could be the astrologers she trusted, including a senior journo who is gushing in a Tamil series these days, gave her false hopes.
Nothing else can explain her failure to draw up a will, assuming she didn’t. If she had, and if it is being suppressed, clearly Sasikala and co have a lot to hide. Either way her position becomes that much problematic.
One can’t be sure whether in their after-life the French king, chacha Nehru or even of MGR himself would have gloated, but one can plausibly hear, “Oh, the deluge after me, after all,” from beneath the Marina sands.