The political tale in Tamil Nadu continues to unfold. Legislators of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are caught in a power tussle between the respective camps of party general secretary VK Sasikala and caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam. Governor Vidyasagar Rao, as argued in an earlier column, is a central protagonist in this drama, since he has the power to invite either leader to stake a claim for government formation. On Sunday, Sasikala challenged allegations made by the opposition camp that legislators were being made to stay at lodgings outside Chennai against their will so that they would not engage with Panneerselvam. She said they were staying there as they were loyal to the party. Sasikala also went to allege the presence of a "big power" behind Panneerselvam, besides suggesting that it was difficult for a woman to participate in politics. The "big power" reference is clearly aimed at the Centre, which she believes is working in cahoots with the Governor to undermine her.
Away from the political intrigue, however, the current crisis in the party and government is a manifestation of the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa's inability to nurture a clear line of succession. When she died, O. Panneerselvam appeared the natural choice, having filled in for Amma on two prior occasions. Sasikala's sudden claim to the majority of the party's MLAs sidelined the Chief Minister, leading to the events on Tuesday night when he declared an open rebellion. Since its inception, the party has functioned under the control of a supreme commander, with both MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa maintaining absolute control over the loyalties of both party cadre and delegates. The transition from MGR to Jayalalithaa also played along similar plot lines. The late chief minister defeated members of MGR's family, despite being eased out of his inner circle in the final years of his life. Of course, the two leaders are responsible for expanding the sphere of the party's influence in both Tamil Nadu and national politics. However, they are equally responsible for the leadership crisis by not letting a second rung take root. Legislators will fall behind whichever among the two emerges stronger in this tussle.