Rasheeda Bhagat

Sasikala’s exit gives AIADMK a fighting chance in TN

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on March 08, 2021

If the aide to former CM Jayalalthaa hadn’t quit politics, the AMMK would have certainly cut into the AIADMK’s votes

With the Assembly elections scene hotting up, last week the spotlight shifted from West Bengal, where one TMC leader after another is making a sprint to the BJP, to Tamil Nadu, with VK Sasikala dramatically announcing her resignation from politics.

This has certainly breathed new life into an election that had been, till then, tilting in favour of DMK’s MK Stalin.

A larger-than-life figure in TN politics for at least three decades, even though she wielded her power from former AIADMK chief and TN Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s shadow, the smart ones in the party and the bureaucracy always strived to be on the right side of Chinna Amma.

In a State where the culture of sycophancy is something else, and a party where the supremo’s image was carefully and deliberately cultivated to be larger than life, for favour seekers obeisance had to be first paid to Sasikala, before being allowed into the durbar of Jayalalithaa.

Jaya’s long illness and tragic death in December 2016 plunged the AIADMK into chaos, and unfortunately for Sasikala, the ill-gotten wealth case against her and Jaya couldn’t have come to fruition at a worse time.

As Sasikala had to march to prison, the bitter struggle for power between Jaya’s chosen O Paneerselvan (a mere figurehead) and Sasikaala’s man Edappadi Palanisamy, broke out and the latter, a political strongman from Salem, prevailed.

But the fact remains that neither of them, and for that matter Sasikala herself, has any proven track record in drawing big votes and winning an election. It was only Jaya’s charisma that saw her defying the well-established DMK-AIADMK pendulum rule of Tamil Nadu and return to power for a successive term in 2016. Post Jaya, Sasikala was imprisoned and though the EPS-OPS camp had not found its feet, in the absence of its master politician M Karunanidhi, the DMK could neither engineer a break-up of the AIADMK nor unseat the government, which still had a good four years left. Stalin wasn’t able to seize the moment.

Why the bombshell

Since then though the EPS-OPS combine managed the State, the Assembly election announcement and Sasikala’s release coinciding, there were imponderables for the ruling set-up, which was seen as kowtowing to the BJP-led Union government. But came the Sasikala bombshell that she was quitting active politics in order to strengthen the party and “ensure that the golden rule of Amma continues for 100 years.”

After the tumultuous welcome she received on release from Bengaluru prison on her journey to Chennai, and seen as a strong enough signal to AIADMK leaders to watch out, why would she suddenly turn around and mouth homilies that she has never been interested in power and the like?

The BJP’s hand is seen. After Karnataka, the BJP obviously wants to strengthen its position in the most important southern State, and unlike in Bengal, where it can make a serious bid to wrest power from Mamata’s TMC, in Tamil Nadu its prospects look dim.

After its wooing of Rajinikanth failed, and the superstar once again slipped away as is his wont, its only hope of getting a toehold in Tamil Nadu is the AIADMK, even without its icons MGR or Jayalalithaa. To just get an idea of how proud and powerful a leader the AIADMK supremo was, let’s rewind to the days when Jayalalithaa used to make tall BJP leaders such as LK Advani or Arun Jaitley cool their heels in Chennai before summoning them to Poes Garden for alliance talks.

Though an unproven entity in garnering votes, Sasikala, with her sources, could have been a game spoiler for the AIADMK, with her nephew TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK, having the same voter base as the AIADMK, cutting into the latter’s votes.

Her decision to call it a day has no doubt come as a comfort factor to the AIADMK leadership.

But as the States goes to polls, the AIADMK will still have to fight the anti-incumbency factor of 10 years. Despite several hiccups and histrionics, Stalin has managed to placate the Congress by giving it 25 seats, which one only hopes will not cost the DMK dear, a la Bihar.

As of now, this election is unlikely to go to the wire, with the DMK appearing to have an edge. The BJP may yet have to wait another five years to get some hold in Tamil Nadu.

Published on March 08, 2021

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