Millennium Post

Sasikala verdict robs TN of political stability

The Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the earlier conviction of Sasikala and two other co-accused in the Disproportionate Assets Case of 1996, may have cleared the hurdle for the Tamil Nadu Governor to invite O Panneerselvam or a new Sasikala nominee, E. Palanisami to prove majority and form a new AIADMK Government.

But the apex court decision on February 14 leaves huge political scars behind for Tamil Nadu, apart from likely instability, in the post-Jaya era. Ruling AIADMK can no longer be viewed an impregnable front in the 234-member TN Assembly. All its divisions have come out in open during the ten-day leadership battle between Panneerselvam and V K Sasikala, the late "Amma's" long-time aide.

While convicted Sasikala is out of the race, having to undergo a term of imprisonment with two others, as per the original trial court's verdict, she has nominated E Palanisamy, said to be a staunch Jaya loyalist, for leadership to counter estranged Panneerselvam.

Indeed, till the Supreme Court order reversing the acquittal judgement of Karnataka High Court in 2014, some 120 MLAs or more were camping out proclaiming support for Sasikala, who herself had met the Governor on Feb 9 and staked a claim to form Government, with a list of her supporters.

Even if Panneerselvam can muster the needed strength in a changing situation and form the next Government, his ability to keep the ruling party of 135 members united till 2021 remains doubtful. Now another contender, Palanisamy, is in the arena, and if he presses his claim, the Governor would have to give him a chance to prove majority. But Panneerselvam may be asked first for a floor test.

Many party MLAs have their reservations about leadership and portfolios and adequacy of representation for the two major communities - Thevars and Gounders. With her total grip over the party and Government, such issues never arose during the reign of charismatic leader Jayalalithaa.

Between 2011 and 2016, Jayalalithaa had not only led her party to successive victories in the Assembly elections of 2011 (when the rival DMK of Karunanidhi suffered a humiliating defeat) and May 2016. But this time, the DMK becoming resurgent ably steered by son M K Stalin won 89 seats thus projecting a formidable opposition.

Jayalalithaa had also scored a record triumph with AIADMK winning 37 out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. She was at the peak of her popularity, having executed massive welfare programmes in Tamil Nadu, when she died in hospital on December 5 last year. The DMK, which was kept at bay all the while by Jayalalithaa, is now more assertive under Stalin as Leader of Opposition.

Stalin had also met Governor Vidyasagar Rao and urged him to ensure that a "responsible government" comes into position in deadlocked Tamil Nadu, as the succession battle in AIADMK was dragging on. He said he was not backing one or the other of the AIADMK factions. His strategy would be to see whether the ruling party gets more divided in the coming days leading to possible desertions and realignments. A weakened AIADMK may provide the temptation for Stalin to challenge the ruling party often and also call for confidence votes on any sensitive issue. It is where tests would come for Panneerselvam or whoever takes his place to demonstrate solid strength.

The intra-party fight for leadership and uglier scenes that were being gone through had also led to calls in the social media for a fresh election to the State Assembly. None of the parties including the two Dravidian majors, Congress, BJP, the Left or other state parties like PMK and DMDK would favour another election at present.
Stalin said that any further delay by the Governor in setting the process of a new Cabinet taking charge would encourage horse-trading in AIADMK. The BJP in the State and the Centre appeared to favour the continuance of Panneerselvam as Chief Minister, given his recent record of governance and establishing healthy contacts with the Centre. For the Modi Government, the primary consideration is to keep the third strongest party in Parliament, AIADMK, in favour to draw support on crucial occasions, especially for passage of major reforms and legislation.

But Tamil Nadu is another heavily indebted state and continues to await Centre's relief assistance for the drought which gripped the state with the failure of the monsoon and losses for farmers who could not raise the main paddy crop. There are several contentious issues, apart from the budgetary problems, to test the AIADMK Government which gets formed soon. DMK has nothing to show that its record of governance was cleaner than the AIADMK.

Leading DMK members had been involved in cases of alleged corruption, and some of them had gone through trials and prison sentences. But the latest Supreme Court's verdict does severely affect the image of AIADMK, the only relieving factor being that Jayalalithaa, the prime accused in the DA case, is no longer alive for the ignominy. How far the party can write off the slurs and helps by its future record contributes to keeping "Amma's" glory alive remains to be seen.

(The views are strictly personal.)

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