SHASTRI RAMACHANDARAN | 29 DECEMBER, 2016
NEW DELHI: V.K Sasikala’s appointment as general secretary of the ruling All India Anna DMK in Tamil Nadu -- “for the time being” – brings the curtain down on one more act in which interest, and the players, are not confined to the state.
However, the drama is far from over. Modi Sarkar both as Central Government and the BJP seems to be very much involved in not only scripting every scene and act, but also directing the key players on stage.
Now, Jayalalithaa has been succeeded as Chief Minister by O Panneerselvam (OPS) and as general secretary by Sasikala (Chinnamma). In the normal course, that should have been the end of the matter, clearing the decks for the state government to get on with the task of administration and for the AIADMK to get on with life after Jayalalithaa.
Far from that, given the ongoing contest for power, this may trigger another round of conflict and tussles within the party. And, not only because, for the first time, the posts are not held by the same person as was the case during the time of MGR and Jayalalithaa
The actual elevation of Sasikala, formerly a close aide of Jayalalithaa and described as her “soul sister”, was a smooth affair. All it took for Chinnamma to become general secretary was a unanimous resolution today. After which OPS, who went to meet her at Poes Garden, said that Sasikala has "wholeheartedly accepted to lead the party."
The resolution stated that "Until Ms. Sasikala is elected under the party's by-law No. 20, Section 2, she has been unanimously appointed as general secretary. Ms. Sasikala will have all powers vested with the general secretary." According to the resolution, until the formal election process was completed, she would hold all powers that came with the post.
The resolution, proposed by 23 leaders, including Chief Minister Panneerselvam and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai, was seconded by over 2,000 general council members.
The fact that OPS, Thambidurai and E K Palaniswami had to go and meet Sasikala “to get her consent” makes it clear that Chinnamma is numero uno; and, that OPS will be taking orders from her – at least for the “time being”.
Modi Sarkar through BJP chief Amit Shah and its Tamil Nadu point man M Venkaiah Naidu has been scripting and actively directing the show. However, they may have to do more if they want to hold on to the AIADMK as a pliant adjunct of the BJP and keep OPS, Sasikala and other key players in line. This would require the BJP’s central leadership to take an even more active hand in the management of the AIADMK, its government and party men.
Events preceding Sasikala’s elevation to the top party post raise questions about what may have gone on behind the scenes. There is speculation about the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and central agencies.
After OPS met PM Modi in Delhi on December 19, there appeared reports of him being a changed man: that he was his own man, asserting his authority as CM and not kowtowing to Sasikala. He was also credited with having his pick (and, not Sasikala’s) as chief secretary and telling his ministers and officials to take orders only from him – and not Sasikala. There were also reports of Sasikala’s reluctance to accept the post as well as of ranks being opposed to her.
However, the fact that he had to go to Jayalalithaa’s former residence, Poes Garden, along with other ‘leaders’ to seek Sasikala’s consent to the resolution making her general secretary suggest that reports of OPS overnight turning into a “Modi-like” man might be exaggerated; and, that the meeting with the Prime Minister has not had the desired effect.
The income tax department’s raids at the office and home of the state chief secretary, the use of paramilitary forces for the purpose and the false figures of money and gold seized which were fed to the media gave rise to suspicions of a “conspiracy” by the Centre. AIADMK leaders came out openly against the raids, criticised the Centre for not seeking the chief minister’s nod and accused Modi Sarkar of trying to discredit the AIADMK government.
If this was an attempt to scare away Sasikala from becoming AIADMK general secretary, it has backfired. Right now, the BJP’s priority is to keep the AIADMK united and cohesive, and all its 48 MPs unwaveringly on its side. The BJP may also have to rethink its stand on the disproportionate assets case in which Sasikala is implicated.
Thus, for the BJP, Sasikala’s rise as general secretary seems to have been unavoidable. The sentiments in the AIADMK and the strong showing in support of her taking charge held sway. Any chance of easing her out now depends on the outcome of the local body elections, which is the first test post-Jayalalithaa AIADMK would be facing early in the New Year.
Meanwhile, to make any headway in Tamil politics and retain control of the AIADMK, the BJP may have to deliver on at least some of the party’s demands. In one of 14 resolutions passed today, the AIADMK general council urged the Centre to declare Jayalalithaa’s birthday – February 24 – as National Farmers’ Day; confer Bharat Ratna on her; and install a life-size bronze statue of her in Parliament.
It may be tough for the BJP to reject these demands. In fact, the AIADMK might even insist on the BJP supporting its other two demands: to get the Nobel Peace Prize and the Ramon Magsaysay award for Jayalalithaa.
Making matters more difficult for the Centre, on the day Sasikala became AIADMK general secretary, the Madras High Court expressed concern over the “mystery” surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death and asked why her body cannot be exhumed. The court censured the Union Government for not revealing any information on the ''mystery''. Justices S. Vaidyanathan and V. Parthiban ordered notice to the Centre, including the Prime minister's Office, and the Tamil Nadu Government. The court observed that the "Representatives of the Central Government visited the hospital. Counsel for the Union government claims to know the details of the incidents. But still the authorities have not conveyed or brought out anything to the people, for the reasons best known to them," it said
"Media has raised a lot of doubts, personally I also have doubts in Jayalalithaa's death," Justice Vaidyanathan said on a petition seeking investigation into the former Chief Minister's death. "At least after her death now, the truth should be revealed," the judge said. The court has asked for a complete health report. Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, was never seen by people after she was admitted to Apollo Hospital on September 22.