The post-Jaya era in Tamil Nadu has begun with ruling AIADMK facing a tough transition amid emerging fissures within, while a fluid situation kindles hopes for re-energised rival DMK to play its game. The BJP, however, seems more ambitious. The saffron party is inconsequential in the state but powerful enough at the Centre to apply the necessary levers and shepherd the AIADMK for its political advantage.
All these calculations are on when the State is going through troubled times with an unprecedented drought, crop failures mainly in paddy-growing Cauvery delta and farmer suicides, and widespread water scarcity in the wake of NE Monsoon failure (Oct-Dec). The growth slowdown and worsening fiscal situation from revenue shortfalls and the negative impact of demonetisation in 2016 have dramatically altered Tamil Nadu’s economic prospects in 2017.
This inevitably draws the State Government to look at the Centre for substantial relief funds. Chief Minister Mr O Panneerselvam is trying his best to ensure that the Government he heads moves smoothly to last its full term until May 2021. Indeed, at the organisational level, the party has reinforced its solidity with the popular election of an articulate Ms V K Sasikala, late ‘Amma’s close aide, as General Secretary, the highest position in AIADMK.
Nevertheless, a powerful section of the party with Mr M Thambidurai, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, is urging Ms Sasikala to take over leadership of the Government. This has the backing of some of the Ministers too. Ms Sasikala has so far remained non-committal to the idea and has been conducting a series of meetings of cadres from all over the state. That dissidence has become visible for the first time is also seen the way small crowds of party cadres have rallied around Ms.Deepa Jayakumar, niece of Ms Jayalalithaa, who is yet to indicate whether she has any intent to get into politics.
An equally significant development in DMK is the crowning of Mr M K Stalin, Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, as Working President of the party, with the tacit approval of the ailing Dravidian patriarch M. Karunanidhi (93). Mr Stalin has been tirelessly working for the Dravidian major enabling it to regain the predominance it had lost in 2011 and win 89 seats in 2016.
With allies, the DMK commands a sizeable strength of 98 members in a House of 234 members. With a relatively slim majority unlike 2011, the ruling AIADMK has, therefore, to guard its numbers against defections. The farmer distress and suicides with about 100 deaths reported provide ample ground for Mr Stalin’s constant attacks on the Panneerselvam Government’s “lack of urgency and poor response” to relief needs. Mr Stalin had also urged the Governor to ask Mr Panneerselvam to prove his majority in the Assembly.
A central team which visited the drought-hit areas in the second week of December has failed to make an early report, as promised by it. AIADMK Ministers were subsequently attending the most-affected districts to determine the quantum of reliefs needed for crop failures as also compensation for the families of deceased farmers.
For his part, Chief Minister Mr O Panneerselvam had, unlike in the past, begun to assert his role in governance. Besides meeting the Prime Minister, he has also been sending out communications to him on a range of issues relating to disaster relief, arrears of revenues from earlier Central allocations, and continuing arrests of TN fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities despite repeated representations made to them. Safeguarding the rights of T N fishermen is a sensitive issue for all parties in the State.
Ms V K Sasikala, Amma’s’ close aide through three decades, as General Secretary has also raised with the Centre, the issue of fishermen. In identical communications to the Prime Minister, both Chief Minister Panneerselvam and Ms Sasikala have urged Mr Modi to associate the Centre with the birth centenary celebrations of former Chief Minister and AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran by unveiling a commemorative coin and postal stamp.
The stature of Ms Sasikala has gone up as a confident leader among the state-level parties which recognise her political acumen with her association of over 33 years with the former supreme leader and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. She declared on assuming office as General Secretary (virtually leadership of AIADMK) on December 31 that the Party and Government would journey firmly upholding the legacy of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.”For me, Amma was life”.
“Let us lead our public life on a holy path which would make those who criticise us today follow us tomorrow,” she said. In a warning against the “evil designs of those who desire to crush the AIADMK in the backdrop of the demise of our leader”, she said, by standing together and marching forward, the party would ensure that “the future is ours”.
Some of Mr Stalin’s statements such as on Jallikattu have been sharply questioned by Ms Sasikala citing facts and pointing out the ban on this bull-taming sport was imposed during the UPA regime of which DMK was a partner. The two leaders would be unsparing in verbal clashes in the coming weeks as the political situation is bound to get tense.
State-level parties outside the fold of the two Dravidian majors, which had sought to provide a “healthy alternative”, away from casteism and freebies, were routed in the May 2016 elections so that Tamil Nadu did not break away from the 50-year grip of these two regional forces, DMK and AIADMK. Both these parties have generally followed policies, both progressive and inclusive, advancing the interests of Tamil Nadu in the federal structure.
The sudden death of the most charismatic leader Jayalalithaa has transformed the political scene in Tamil Nadu, and this has created opportunities for both the state-level Dravidian outfits and national parties, Congress and BJP. The smaller parties are mostly reconciled to the present AIADMK dispensation. The Congress which has aligned with DMK, winning 11 seats in the 2016 assembly elections, has first to set its house in order, to refashion its role in Tamil Nadu which it had ruled till 1967.
BJP leaders at the Centre look more hopefully at the TN developments, and their interest is reported to help AIADMK remain united so that with its 37 members in Lok Sabha, the third largest party, could be relied on to support BJP nominees for the forthcoming Presidential and Vice-Presidential elections. Any split in AIADMK with the signs of growing disaffection among party men over the leadership changes that have taken place would be ruinous for the ruling party and also disadvantageous for BJP at the Centre.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)