SHASTRI RAMACHANDARAN | 11 FEBRUARY, 2017
NEW DELHI: As the political crisis in Tamil Nadu gets murkier, it now appears that Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao has delayed AIADMK General Secretary V K Sasikala’s swearing-in as Chief Minister to help acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam win over more MLAs. Cracks have begun appearing in the AIADMK and efforts are on to break the ranks of the MLAs who are with Sasikala.
Informed observers say that, besides MLAs, OPS is expected to wean away MPs and influential party functionaries also in the time left before the Supreme Court verdict in the disproportionate assets case against Sasikala. Indications are that the BJP has thrown its weight behind OPS in anticipation of a split in the AIADMK. The Governor’s actions, too, appear to be guided by the objective of hastening MLAs behind Sasikala to switch their support to OPS.
On Friday, Rao reportedly made it clear that he will await the Supreme Court judgment in the disproportionate assets case against Sasikala before taking a decision on the chief ministership.
Today, Sasikala wrote to Rao for an appointment to meet him along with her MLAs. She sought time for staking her claim to form the government and prove her majority. In her letter, released to the media, Sasikala said that acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has resigned from his post and the same was accepted by the Governor a week ago. Emphasising "the urgency of the situation at hand,” Sasikala’s letter stated, “I would like to seek an appointment with Your Excellency by today with all MLAs who extended their support to me regarding further course of action to form the Government."
Sasikala indicated that she is running out of patience by saying, "I believe Your Excellency will act immediately to save the Sovereignty of the Constitution, democracy and the interest of the State."
Meanwhile, the battle of nerves between the Sasikala and OPS camps is turning into a full-blown war between the two sides. On Saturday, two Lok Sabha members – Ashok Kumar and P R Sundaram -- joined the OPS camp and called on the caretaker Chief Minister at his house. Another boost to OPS came with School Education Minister ‘Ma Foi’ Pandiarajan switching sides. Ashok Kumar said that more AIADMK MPs would be joining Panneerselvam. The AIADMK has 37 members in the Lok Sabha.
From the Rajya Sabha, V. Maithreyan is with OPS. Maithreyan, who was earlier in Sasikala’s good books, is seen as an RSS man in the AIADMK. His presence in the OPS camp reinforces the perception that the BJP at the Centre is, through him, driving the operations to bring over the MLAs from Sasikala’s camp. Maithreyan was joined by E. Madhusudhanan, the chairman of the AIADMK presidium, who was subsequently expelled from the party by Sasikala and replaced with K A Sengottaiyan. Former Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P H Pandian and a former minister K P Munusamy are among the other players in Panneerselvam’s inner circle.
Sasikala’s flock is getting restive and there is speculation that, unless tactfully handled, there might be an eruption of protests against the Governor and the Modi Sarkar. This is reinforced by those who claim that the jallikattu protests and violence on the Marina were incited by Sasikala.
While the BJP is doing its best to exploit the breach in Tamil Nadu to leverage its own power, presence and influence, the Congress is playing a game of wait and watch. Actors Rajnikanth and Kamala Hassan are said to be against Sasikala and, by virtue of being with Modi, on the side of OPS. The Congress, which is of little consequence, is divided. Former Union Minister P Chidambaram has openly come out against Sasikala being sworn in while a court verdict is awaited. Other Congressmen are of the view that the Governor has no choice but to swear in Sasikala since she has been elected as the leader of the AIADMK legislature party.
The DMK is the elephant in the room. AIADMK legislators in both the Sasikala and OPS camps know that eventually they may have to seek refuge in the DMK. However, as of now, Sasikala’s supporters are wary of the DMK and have accused OPS of being backed by the DMK and its leader M K Stalin, which the latter has denied.
At present, a majority of the MLAs, and MPs, are still firmly under the thumb of Sasikala even as no efforts are spared to make them abandon Chinnamma. A reading of the social media shows Sasikala to be unpopular with members of the AIADMK’s rank and file, which favour OPS. However, a chief minister cannot be appointed on the basis of social media popularity or votes cast in online newspaper polls.
Who becomes the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is now dependent not only on AIADMK MLAs, MPs and rank and file but also on constitutional institutions such as that of the Governor, the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court, besides, the Union government and parties like the BJP, the Congress and the DMK.