OPINION

India: Tamil Nadu politics after “Amma” Jayalalithaa: “Chinnamma” Sasikala chosen to be new TN CM

By Abdul Ruff

After MGR, it was Jayalalithaa who literally controlled Tamil Nadu politics almost singlehanded, leaving the arch rival of both Karunanidhi, former CM, far behind. Her death has obviously caused a big vacuum that is being filled by the efforts of ruling AIADMK party leaders by elevating Sasikala, a friend of Jaya, to the chief ministerial position through a series of calculated actions.

Not known as a possible heir during Jayalalithaa’s life time, Sasikala Natarajan, a close friend of Jayalalithaa and also involved in Jaya’s disproportionate assets case, will be the next CM of the state as the AIADMK MLAs who have full majority in the state assembly, have on February 05 elected her as their leader to enable her to become CM of the state.

After a meeting of AIADMK MLAs, chaired by General Secretary VK Sasikala Natarajan on Sunday, the party announced that they had elected her as Legislative party leader. The incumbent CM O. Pannerselvam has since resigned his post and submitted his resignation to Sasikala. Sasikala would be inaugurated as the chief minister on the 9th, and the swearing in may be before 9 February. Outgoing chief minister O Panneerselvam may well be Tamil Nadu’s next deputy chief minister. The post of the deputy chief minister has been vacant ever since DMK lost power to AIADMK in May 2011. MK Stalin had been the first deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

Former AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa had selected O. Pannerselvam to be her successor to rule when she was in jail and she never used Sasikala to shoulder any responsibility both in party and government not even once in her life time.

AIADMK confirms the change of guard in the party. The party, while dismissing DMK’s criticism of her being inexperienced, says she knows to run the party. However, whether the new leadership is acceptable to people is a major question.

News reports suggest that it was Panneerselvam himself who proposed the name of Sasikala. The move paves the way for Sasikala to take over as the state’s chief minister.

Sasikala belongs to the dominant Thevar community which also is said to have played a major role in Panneerselvam, who is also from the same community, becoming the stop-gap chief minister whenever Jayalalithaa had to step down and even after her death.

Sasikala assumes power in Tamil Nadu without being an MLA, without fighting any poll so far, without any experience in party and government, however, now most ruling party functionaries have decided to stand by her to save the party and government.

The news of Sasikala’s elevation as Tamil Nadu chief minister had been doing the rounds ever since she took over as the party chief. The announcement of Sunday’s meeting had triggered speculations that Sasikala would take over reigns from Panneerselvam, but the party had dismissed rumours of any imminent change in the party leadership and said the meeting was to facilitate better communication between the MLAs and the government. AIADMK held a meeting of its MLAs on Sunday, where it was expected that Sasikala, a longtime confidant of the late chief minister Jayalalithaa would take over.

Last month, Thambidurai MP had said that the leadership in both the party and governance should be with the same person, while urging Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister. He had cited the political tussle in Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh to drive home his point that the control of government and party should vest with the same person.

Interestingly, it appears all Dravidian leaders and their followers starting from EV Periyar, CN Annadurai, MGR and Jayalalithaa have worked for decades of struggle only to eventually make a non-political person without any ideological commitment, administrative experience and without any hints from Jayalalithaa to  let Sasikala to emerge her successor to throne in Tamil Nadu.

Yes, Sasikala, for whom all of a sudden Jayalalithaa has become a god now, is one of luckiest persons in the state, rather India, to become its CM  just like that because the ruling party urgently needs just a woman figure head to control the MLAs. PM Modi had blessed her when he attended the funeral of Jayalalithaa.

Sasikala: A close aide of late Jayalalithaa

Sasikala, 62, had been a close aide of Jayalalithaa for three decades and was always seen as a power centre in AIADMK. She has been taking care of party affairs, although she never held any formal position in the AIADMK before Jayalalithaa’s death.

The ruling party invokes the late chief minister Jayalalithaa, says ‘Chinnamma’ (Sasikala) will follow the footsteps of ‘Amma’ (Jayalalithaa). The party also said that it is happy with her taking over as the chief minister of the state.

Blamed once for Jayalalithaa’s disastrous election loss in 1996, the 60-year-old Sasikala, who was a video library owner before getting close to the late leader, was always considered having a clout in the running of the party. Having accompanied Jayalalithaa to prison when arrested in a disproportionate assets case, Sasikala’s roller-coaster career saw her being expelled for anti-party activities only to be restored in a few months five years ago.

Jayalalithaa’s demise on 5 December was seen as a personal loss for Sasikala who was a permanent resident of Jayalalithaa’s house Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden, even choosing to stay away from her husband.

Experts say if Sasikala is convicted in the disproportionate asset case after becoming the chief minister, she will have to step down from the top post and she would also be barred from contesting elections. The Karnataka government has filed a plea challenging her acquital in the Supreme Court. The verdict is to come soon.

DMK compares Sasikala’s elevation to that of Rabri Devi in 1997. EVKS Elangovan, senior Tamil Nadu Congress leader, calls Sasikala elevation as the chief minister “totally unacceptable”. Congress calls 5 February a “black day”, In response to the growing chorus for Sasikala taking charge as chief minister, DMK Working President MK Stalin on Sunday expressed worries about divisions in the ruling AIADMK after the death of Jayalalithaa and was keen that it should not affect the functioning of the administration. “The people voted for a government to be headed by Ms Jayalalithaa in May 2016 and not for one to be run by Mr. O Panneerselvam or any other person from Ms. Jayalalithaa’s household,” 63-year-old leader told PTI in an interview.

Control mechanism 

Sasikala was appointed as General Secretary by AIADMK’s top decision-making body General Council on December 29. She took charge of the post on December 31, pledging to take forward the legacy of Jayalalithaa. In December last year, four state ministers had asked Sasikala to become the Chief Minister, besides AIADMK General Secretary. A resolution to this effect was passed at a meeting of Tirunelveli Urban Jaya Peravai (Forum), led by state AIADMK secretary and revenue minister R B Udhayakumar on December 17.

On Friday, Sasikala had appointed senior leaders, including some former Ministers and a former Mayor, to key party posts. Former Ministers KA Sengottaiyan, S Gokula Indira and B V Ramana, besides ex-Mayor Saidai S Duraisamy were made the AIADMK’s Organisation Secretaries. The appointments also included that of Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar to a key party post. She had also announced removal of Ambattur MLA V Alexander as AIADMK’s MGR Youth Wing Secretary. He will, however, continue as the party’s Tiruvallore (East) District Secretary, Sasikala had said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has sought a response from the AIADMK on a complaint filed by sacked leader Sasikala Pushpa against the election of VK Sasikala as party General Secretary. Sasikala Pushpa had filed a complaint that the election was not as per procedure, official sources in the poll panel. Pushpa had told the Commission that the elevation of Sasikala as the general secretary of the party was carried out in an “undemocratic manner”.

Sasikala took over as the party chief on 30 December last year, after the untimely demise of long-time leader J Jayalalithaa on 5 December. O Panneerselvam took over as the chief minister.

However, the clamor to see Sasikala as the chief minister grew in the coming days. The rumor mill began working overtime after three senior officers were given the marching orders on Friday. One of them is Sheela Balakrishnan, who had been appointed as the adviser to the Tamil Nadu government by Jayalalithaa after she retired as chief secretary and practically ran the government when the late chief minister was hospitalised between September and December 2016. Panneerselvam was acting under instructions from Poes Garden.

Sasikala has to get elected to assembly within 6 months to continue in power. If she loses by chance in RK Nagar constituency where Jayalalithaa had won with huge majority that would spell doom  to both Sasikala and AIADMK.

Notwithstanding all “necessary” changes taking place in the party and government, the ruling AIADMK faces a serious problem in making the Tamil people accept Chinnamma Sasikala as their Amma Jayalalithaa. .

Speculation is indeed thrilling!

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Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is an independent analyst; columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics; expert on Mideast affairs, chronicler of foreign occupations & freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.); Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); commentator on world affairs & sport fixings, former university teacher and author of eBooks/books

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