Posted On December 13, 2016 By In Uncategorized And 715 Views

Sasikala Has A Big Role Now – But It Could Really Backfire

When Jayalalithaa’s mentor, matinee idol M. G. Ramachandran, died in 1987, there was widespread rioting and disruption. Multiple devotees took their own lives,
and his party was riven by an acrimonious battle between his wife Janaki and his protégé Jayalalithaa. When Jayalalithaa passed away, therefore, the state was braced
for unrest and there were predictions that the AIADMK would be plunged into chaos. Such fears were not without foundation. Jayalalithaa was an immensely popular
politician who had secured her place in people’s affections through her popularity as an actress and the adroit use of personalised welfare schemes and programmes
that took cheap food, medicines and services to the masses. Furthermore, the volatility and passion of her followers was evident in September 2014 after she was
jailed in the disproportionate assets case. At that point, AIADMK cadre set buses alight, stopped traffic and resorted to violence across the state. There was also no
obvious replacement as party leader. All power and decision-making authority was centralised in the person of Jayalalithaa or “Amma” as she was more commonly
known. In the event, commentators have been surprised by the smooth transfer of power and the dignified and respectful response of both mourners and opposition
politicians alike. Within hours of Jayalalithaa’s death being announced, her trusted lieutenant O Panneerselvam was anointed as party leader and, despite crowds of
distraught supporters queuing to pay their last respects, the violence that was feared did not materialise. Despite this, it is no exaggeration to state that the death of the
four-time Chief Minister leaves a vacuum at the heart of her party and in the centre of Tamil politics. All decision-making power and responsibility in the AIADMK
were centralised in Jayalalithaa, and she frequently shuffled ministers and parliamentary candidates to keep them on their toes and prevent the emergence of rivals.
Panneerselvam, thus, has inherited the leadership less due to his own merits and more because Jayalalithaa trusted him to hold the fort in her absence. His blind loyalty
(when asked to stand-in during Jayalalithaa’s stint in prison, he was reluctant even to occupy her chair) may endear him to the party faithful, but does not mean that he
will be a dynamic or successful leader. Indeed, in his earlier periods as Chief Minister, he was seen as a puppet. What then does the future hold for the AIADMK and
for Tamil politics more generally? The orderly transition is both welcome and commendable, but already there are signs that Panneerselvam’s fragile hold on the reins
of power may not endure. Ever the loyalist, he has been quoted by party organ Jaya TV as endorsing calls for Jayalalithaa’s controversial friend and confidante
Sasikala Natarajan to become party General Secretary. There are two main difficulties with this. The first relates to politics and the second to caste. Politically
speaking, there are a number of considerations. Given that Sasikala has never held public office and has no popular mandate, it is highly unlikely that she could
assume the position of Chief Minister. During her tumultuous friendship with Jayalalithaa over the past 30 years, however, she has often been portrayed as the power
behind the throne. Should she accede to the General Secretary position, it is probable that she would continue to wield influence in such manner. Party posters and
banners this week have given prominence to Sasikala and overtly used her nickname “Chinnamma” (Mum’s younger sister), bolstering reports that she is poised to
assume a more central role. Whilst used affectionately now, and deployed to legitimate her position, the reference to Chinnamma originated amongst disgruntled
members of the party who were unhappy with her influence. Alongside this is the fact that Sasikala was co-accused with Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets or
corruption case that is still pending in the courts. Finally, she is forever tainted by the grandiose and extravagant wedding that Jayalalithaa organised for her nephew,
who was made the Chief Minister’s foster son. The opulence on show was one of the central reasons for the AIADMK’s disastrous showings in the 1996 elections.


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