Since last December, Tamil Nadu has set the ground for volatile political drama which has unfolded amidst the most unprecedented and dramatic outcomes. Jayalalithaa had been a mass leader evoking respect from all corners of Tamil society. Her demise, an unparalleled loss to the legacy of Indian politics and to the entire state of Tamil Nadu, had given birth to extreme uncertainty within circles of the AIADMK. Since her hospitalisation in September, till her demise in December, and until yesterday when incumbent Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami ordered a probe into the conditions underlying Jaya's death, Tamil Nadu has intermittently made headlines on national television channels, which would otherwise spare little thought to political vagaries down south. This order for probe by Palaniswami has been termed by many to be a situation of "killing two birds with one stone." He has not only extended a hand toward the Panneerselvam camp but also ousted Sasikala from any claim she may have had on Poes Garden, as his announcement also declared that Jaya's residence would be converted into a state memorial. AIADMK has been in splits since December after Panneerselvam who took interim charge and subsequently handed over his resignation had soon alleged that he had been forced to quit against his own rational will. Towards the end of December, the general council of AIADMK had appointed Sasikala as party general secretary; Sasikala herself had been wounded with conspiracies as she along with her nephew, Dhinakaran, who now forms a strong rebel group, had been ousted from the party by Jaya in 2011. Though Jaya did welcome back Sasikala in 2013, Dhinakaran was not invited to join party ranks. Many believe that Sasikala in a bid to acquire the Chair had compelled Panneerselvam to quit. The latter after meditation at Jaya's memorial had made his disclosures which had rattled AIADMK's internal peace. Soon Sasikala was arrested and imprisoned for 4-years owing to her involvement in a disproportionate assets case. Her arrest foiled her attempts at securing Jaya's place, which the formidable leader had ruled across six-terms by garnering great support among Tamils who hailed her proudly as their Puratchi Thalaiva Amma- the revolutionary leader Jayalalithaa. Addressing a press conference in Chennai on Thursday, Palaniswami made the announcement that, "Various news from various sections and forums are appearing in the media about the death of Amma. An inquiry commission headed by retired high court judge will be set up to look into her unfortunate demise." Since Palaniswami took charge, the Panneerselvam camp had made claims regarding suspicious conditions that led to the death of the hailed leader.
Along with Panneerselvam's appeal, the case had reached the Madras High Court with several PILs being filed by persons seeking an enquiry into Jaya's death. A change disconcerting AIADMK since the last few months had been the growing strength of Dhinakaran, who also addressed a public rally in Melur, which was attended by over 25,000 AIADMK cadres along with 19 out of 134 party lawmakers present in the assembly. Here, too, Dhinakaran had raised suspicion over Jaya's death. His rally was an open challenge to both Panneerselvam and Palaniswami, who have been speaking of a merger. In an assembly with a majority mark of 117, the 19 MLA's switching towards Dhinakaran could have proved to be a threat for Palaniswami. This new announcement which could forge grounds for a merger between the two camps of OPS and the erstwhile Chief Minister would ease these difficulties. Though Sasikala continues to be party general secretary, a resolution was moved by Palaniswami that rejected Dhinakaran's position as secretary to Sasikala. Sasikala's position as general secretary, however, is under dispute and is being reviewed by the Election Commission. New changes could witness Panneerselvam taking on the position as deputy-Chief Minister, with two of his loyalists K Pandiarajan and S Semmalai also scheduled to get possible cabinet ministries. The unfolding of these parallel activities, many argue, could be seen as a coup to oust Sasikala and her family from holding on to any reigns in the future of Tamil Nadu politics. The fact that Palaniswami was Sasikala's choice had raised doubts regarding the feasibility of such an ouster. The BJP at the Centre also has vested interests here as they seek to draw a merger with AIADMK, a proposition that would remain unfulfilled with Sasikala lingering in the background. The AIADMK with 50 MPs would provide a massive boost to the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, and also pave way for taking on the DMK-Congress combine whose presence continues to loom heavily down south. All these are important considerations given that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are less than two years away. However, while the BJP seeks to fulfil its goals, the task at hand for AIADMK will be easier said than done. The south has always witnessed a tradition of strong independent leaders who had not succumbed to pressure boiling down from the top. The mass there will not readily yield to this shift that would unsettle their prided culture. For now, though, Tamil politics is grabbing nation-wide attention; not for any wrong reason.