National

Amma and after: TN’s theatre of the absurd

N Ramakrishnan Chennai | Updated on January 12, 2018

The future of Tamil Nadu politics appears to be a battle between Sasikala and Stalin, both of whom have recently assumed the mantle of their respective parties, arch-rivals AIADMK and the DMK

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Jayalalithaa’s demise has set the stage for strange times in the State’s politics

Ever since J Jayalalithaa died last month, it is the theatre of the absurd that has been playing out in Tamil Nadu’s political scene.

Even as Jayalalithaa’s body lay in state for the public to pay homage, the question foremost in everyone’s mind was what would Sasikala, for long Jayalalithaa’s friend, confidante and surrogate sister, do? She and her extended family had occupied vantage positions next to the body and it was Sasikala, along with Jayalalithaa’s nephew, who performed the last rites as the late Chief Minister’s body was buried on the Marina.

That itself should have provided ample indication of Sasikala’s game plan. There were many who opined that Sasikala would prefer to keep a low profile, at least for some time. That was not to be. She quickly got herself elected as the AIADMK’s General Secretary, even as senior leaders orchestrated a campaign asking her to take over as Chief Minister.

OPS’ plight

Poor O Panneerselvam, who was sworn in as Chief Minister shortly after Jayalalithaa’s death was announced at around midnight on December 5, must have on his head a crown of thorns: will this be another stop-gap arrangement? He had been Chief Minister twice earlier when Jayalalithaa had to step down because of court verdicts against her on corruption cases. A full term would mean he would demit office only in 2021, when the next Assembly elections are due. Meanwhile, the clamour for Sasikala to take over the chief ministership continues.

Chinamma’s course

Sasikala has begun casting herself in the Jayalalithaa mould, right from the tilak on her forehead. The bowing and scraping by party functionaries continues. Although she does not have any official standing yet, there is tight security in Poes Garden, where she lived with the former Chief Minister. She has been meeting functionaries from various district units of the AIADMK, and a portion of the road on which the party office is located is been cordoned off every time she visits.

The other possibility is that Sasikala may do a Sonia Gandhi: she may choose to wield power from behind the scenes. After all, it was quite clear from her first public function, organised by a Delhi-based media house, as to who was more powerful. Chief Minister Panneerselvam was relegated to the background, while all eyes were on Sasikala.

Meanwhile, elsewhere another campaign is afoot: that for Deepa, Jayalalithaa’s niece, to take over the party mantle. Even when the Chief Minister was in hospital, Deepa – the daughter of Jayalalithaa’s late brother – had alleged that she was prevented from seeing her aunt. Till such time, few knew of her existence, and the sudden claim to being Jayalalithaa’s rightful heir is stretching things a bit too much.

The rise of the son

There has been much action in Tamil Nadu’s principal Opposition party too: the DMK has created the post of Working President and chosen supreme leader M Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin to take up the job. For long the party’s Youth Wing leader, and currently also its Treasurer, Stalin has worked his way up the ranks and his elevation is just one step away from taking up the position of his nonagenarian father, who has been ailing for some time. Referred to by all in the party as ‘thalapathy’ – or lieutenant – Stalin led the party’s campaign in the May 2016 Assembly elections as also the 2014 Parliamentary elections.

However, it may not be all smooth sailing for him, with his elder brother and former Union Minister MK Alagiri, now expelled from the party, sure to make his bid for the leadership at a later date.

Stalin’s handicap is that he will always be compared with his father Karunanidhi, who was known for his oratory, wit and political acumen. It will be an unfair comparison, but that is the reality Stalin will have to contend with.

For the time being though it promises to be a Sasikala-versus-Stalin battle. Sasikala’s first test will come if she decides to take over as chief minister. She will have to get elected to the Assembly. That will be the first test of her mettle in the political battlefield.

Water under the bridge

In the month since Jayalalithaa’s death so much has happened that she has almost slipped from public memory. There was no one making a beeline to her burial site on the first month of her death. In a first of sorts, income tax authorities swooped down on Tamil Nadu’s Chief Secretary PS Rama Mohan Rao, with searches being carried out in his office at the State Secretariat too.

This is yet another instance of the politician-bureaucrat nexus. The raids were a fallout of the arrest of a contractor, Shekar Reddy, who was supposed to be close to leading politicians in the ruling party. There was hardly any regret at Rama Mohan Rao’s plight from among his own colleagues in the bureaucracy. The baton has quickly passed on to Girija Vaidyanathan, an IAS officer with impeccable credentials.

Tailpiece

Irrespective of what happens on the political front, the two Dravidian parties and their clones would do well to realise that the days of the public taking in their stride whatever hardship is posed to them are over. Blocking of roads for a meeting in the party office or Stalin’s supporters creating chaos in the neighbourhood where he lives, by parking their cars haphazardly, may not be tolerated for long.

Also, for the nearly 75 days that Jayalalithaa was in hospital, residents of the locality were put to enormous hardship as the streets were cordoned off. It may be worthwhile for whoever is in power to even consider building a super-speciality hospital with all the latest equipment, gadgets and diagnostic facilities and the best of doctors somewhere outside the city just to treat VIPs. So that the public do not suffer.

Published on January 11, 2017

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