Mainstream, VOL LV No 8 New Delhi February 11, 2017
Tamil Nadu Drama Intensifies
Sunday 12 February 2017
The political drama in Chennai is intensifying. Precisely two months after her mentor J. Jayalalithaa’s death, V.K. Sasikala was unanimously elected leader of the ruling AIADMK’s legislature party on February 5. O. Panneerselvam, who had become the CM in place of Jayalalithaa during the AIADMK supremo’s ailment and continued in that post after Jaya’s demise, had himself proposed Sasikala’s name as the leader of the legislature party; later he cited “personal reasons” for resigning from the CM’s office.
But by the night of February 7 the scenario changed. As was reported in the press the following day, “An unprecedented revolt has erupted against... V.K. Sasikala... after the unassuming Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, never a rebel in his political career, emerged at the Jayalalithaa Memorial at Marina beach on Tuesday night to reveal that his resignation from the Chief Minister’s post on Sunday in favour of Sasikala was ‘forced’ and that he would fight until his death for democracy in the party.” (The Indian Express) Panneerselvam further insisted that he was not informed in advance of the legislature party meeting held on February 5 and the decision to elect Sasikala as the leader was communicated to him at the last moment.
Thereafter events have moved fast. Whereas Sasikala claimed on February 8 that she had the support of as many as 131 of the 134 AIADMK MLAs and asserted that she would defeat all attempts to destroy the party, she also indicated that the DMK, the AIADMK’s arch rival, could have had a role in the revolt while claiming that DMK leader M.K. Stalin was expressing his happiness over the crisis in the AIADMK. But the reality was that, even if by a trickle at the outset, Panneerselvam’s revolt was slowly but steadily gaining momentum. As of now, as many as eight AIADMK MLAs have switched over to the Panneerselvam camp and they include the number two person in the AIADMK—the Chairman of the party’s Presidium, Madhusudanan. The anticipation is that more AIADMK legislators would switch sides and join Panneerselvam as press reports allege that several MLAs were being held captive at a luxury resort some 60 kms from Chennai.
Meanwhile as we go to press, the State Governor has met both Panneerselvam and Sasikala in Chennai and conveyed to them that whatever he would do would be in conformity with the law. He has not yet taken any decision on whom to call to form the government.
The Congress has charged the Governor of acting at the behest of the BJP Government at the Centre and taking his time to reach a decision. Reports suggest that the BJP leaders running the Union Government are backing Panneerselvam—no matter whatever their public protestation that they are not taking sides in the matter.
As for the ground reality, Panneerselvam’s revolt has found an echo among the public in Tamil Nadu and informed opinion in the State is not in favour of Sasikala being asked to form the government especially when a court verdict on a disproportionate assets case against her is pending. It appears that there is a possibility of the verdict being pronounced on February 13. Nevertheless at the moment a majority of the AIADMK MLAs is with her and it is these legislators who can give her a majority in the floor test in the Assembly.
February 9 Observer