A strong comeback?
Sasikala’s return brings forward the dilemma of dual leadership in the party
How political events shaped in Tamil Nadu after the release of VK Sasikala Natarajan, a close aide of J Jayalalithaa, from the jail brings to light the factors to reckon with. The AIADMK, under the dual leadership at present, has been shaky but has been ably managed with the powers the leadership derived from the government. It is also a known fact that the government survived for the full term because of the support extended by the Central Government. Through his performance in the government, Edapadi K Palanisamy has improved his image but has not improved his capability to control the cadres through his charisma and emotional bond as done by MGR and J Jayalalithaa. He has also been unable to keep the party intact. To face DMK, AIADMK needs a very strong leader. Edapadi K Palanisamy has performed his task in governance to run the show for four years by keeping the MLAs intact through a process of quid pro quo policy.
The way Edapadi K Palanisamy reacted to the roadshow organized by TTV Dhinakaran for VK Sasikala from Bangalore to Chennai after her release has made the programme an event of political significance. Despite the silence of many ministers, and the members of the Legislative Assembly of the party, huge cadres of the AIADMK thronged on the national highway with great enthusiasm. Many senior journalists believe that VK Sasikala is emerging as a reckoning force. The image shaped by Edapadi K Palanisamy that he is a performer in terms of governance has started declining after he made a statement that there is no room for entry of VK Sasikala into AIADMK. It gives a sense that the whole regime is shaky. Further, the alliance partners are hesitantly waiting and watching the political developments in the AIADMK.
How the BJP handled the AIADMK and its leadership, gave a sense to the AIADMK cadres that there is no leadership in the party and hence the present ministers of the AIADMK are dancing to 'saffron' tunes. The cadres of the AIADMK strongly feel that the BJP is responsible for the split in the party. In the forthcoming legislative assembly elections, if there is an alliance within the polarized AIADMK, its cadres will not transfer their votes to BJP, and thereby, it will enable the DMK to win the election very easily. The cadres of DMK feel that they are in their comfort zone in the electoral space as Rajinikanth has withdrawn from that space and the AIADMK is facing the election as a divided house without strong leadership. Silently, actor Kamal Hasan is taking steps to form the third front and his image is also on the increase among the urban middle class. In the last Assembly election, AIADMK won by a one per cent difference of votes. Now, TTV Dhinakaran's party demonstrated in the electoral contests after its formation, from Lok Sabha to local body elections, that it has a five to six per cent vote share.
In Tamil Nadu politics, sympathy has its own role in shifting the votes in favour of individuals. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination enabled AIADMK to form the government in 1991 with a huge majority. The marginalization of DMK during that period enabled AIADMK, under the leadership of Jayalalithaa, to make huge mistakes in governance with a sense that people are with her party. In the 1996 election, she along with AIADMK was defeated. It was a terrible political event in the history of AIADMK. It enabled DMK to have a perception that people have been disillusioned with the performance of AIADMK and its leader Jayalalithaa. They tried to wipe out Jayalalithaa from the political scene by fostering 12 cases based on the charges of corruption. She had never faced such a crisis during her political career. Continuous trouble caused to J Jayalalithaa by DMK enabled her to emerge successful in the next Assembly election in 2011. Despite all corruption charges, people voted for AIADMK and Jayalalithaa. It is a sorry state of affairs that corruption has been regularized and people have internalized corruption as part of their life and in such a way politics has been shaped in Tamil Nadu.
At present, an argument has been projected that the leadership vacuum still persists which inspired many to form political parties and the smaller parties are hoping that this time a coalition government is possible as none of the dominant parties will get an absolute majority. In the ensuing legislative assembly election, there will not be any scope for using the charisma of the leaders to get votes for the party candidates. In this context, VK Sasikala's release and entry into active politics will give Tamil Nadu politics a new turn. When she was imprisoned, her image was different and negative, but now her image is totally different which earns sympathy not only from the cadres of AIADMK but also the public. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, known for their leadership in managing regional politics, will fail miserably in their strategy to dismantle the ideological enemy of DMK. If BJP is not doing its midcourse correction in strengthening AIADMK by keeping VK Sasikala at the helm of affairs, the electoral verdict will be disastrous to the AIADMK-BJP combination and it will enable VK Sasikala to capture the party after the election. The whole exercise of BJP in the past four years will become a futile attempt and waste of energy and the forthcoming election will be the same as the Lok Sabha election in 2019.
The author is a former Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. Views expressed are personal