The upcoming release of a close aide of late J Jayalalitha, Sasikala is certain to cause a stir in the already convoluted 2021 election in Tamil Nadu
In May 2021, Tamil Nadu has to face a Legislative Assembly election and this time, it is expected a new course of politics would emerge as political groups are working for weakening the Dravidian parties. Arguments have been projected very convincingly that the Dravidian parties have deviated from the Dravidian ideology and deeply chocked in corruption. As a result, the franchise has been a tradable commodity. Further, rent-seeking has been justified and regularised. At once, leadership coupled with ideology played a decisive role in deciding the victory of the party in the election in Tamil Nadu. Now, neither the leadership nor the ideology has any role in the election to decide the victory. In such a way, politics had been played out in the past three decades. Political parties in Tamil Nadu, barring a few, heavily relied on the market for resources to carry out political actions which pushed the political parties to function in market consciousness by relegating the concern for poor to the background. The social development policies and programmes of the DMK and the pro-poor policies and programmes of the AIADMK have taken a backseat as cash for votes gains currency in Tamil Nadu politics, which requires huge money for electioneering.
As a result, intellectuals, ideologues and well-meaning opinion makers have been marginalised in the parties by the entry of large numbers of individuals with monied backgrounds which is now considered essential for facing the election as votes are in the market for sale. Since political and election activities have been made so costly, political parties need money from the market and men with money backgrounds. No ordinary individual can get a ticket from a political party to contest in the election and face the election with principle and programme.
In this context, the political parties and more specifically the ruling AIADMK and the opposing DMK started their electioneering even during the pandemic by distributing relief material to the poor. The way in which they distributed relief materials competitively by both the AIADMK and the DMK indicate the election mode in the whole process. The AIADMK government has announced a package of relief through schemes and programmes. But the DMK has been equally active in distributing relief material by investing huge amounts of money.
At this juncture, news has been leaked in the social media that the close aide of J Jayalalitha, Sasikala is going to be released on August 14, 2020, which gains significance in the political discourse of the State. Her release is viewed by the opinion-makers as a variable, considering that her presence will make a significant impact on the political process. It is viewed that her release from the prison may strengthen the AIADMK if there is a negotiated settlement establishment between her and the present establishment of the party. She will not act as a force to weaken the AIADMK as it will help only the DMK. The present central dispensation will not allow Sasikala to act against the ruling AIADMK. By strengthening the AIADMK, the BJP will gain strength to make an entry into legislative politics through an electoral alliance with the AIADMK. Chalking out a course of action that is detrimental to AIADMK by Sasikala will help neither Sasikala nor the AIADMK. Yet an element of risk is also there for the AIADMK and Sasikala to align with the BJP as an anti-BJP mood is still alive in Tamil Nadu. IT is the hard task for the AIADMK to change the anti-BJP sentiments of the people in Tamil Nadu.
At the same time, one cannot say the main opposition party the DMK will come to power despite the strength of the party and its leader as the Tamil nationalist groups have done enough damage to the image of the party among the youth through social media that the DMK has completely weakened the cultural nationalist politics in Tamil Nadu. Further, one cannot discount the strength of the present Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy.
At the time of the demise of J Jayalalitha and his assumption of the office of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, nobody expected that he would continue in office for at least three months as the DMK and its allies were intact with enough strength in the Legislative Assembly to topple the Government by making a small split in the ruling AIADMK. Later, it also happened through O Panneerselvam. People have been given an impression that change in the Government or a fresh election was on the cards. In such a condition, the present Chief Minister assumed office. He has to manage the Central Government, the DMK, the shaky AIADMK and more particularly, the cadres of the party and the masses. Now, the very same people who had discounted Edappadi K Palanisamy have started recognising him as a leader with the capacity to manage all challenges by staying in power for three years. He saved the Government, kept the party intact by integrating O Panneerselvam into the party fold. He kept the main opposition, the DMK under check and he keeps all his allies within his fold. He saw to it that there will not be any anti-incumbency sentiments among the people by delivering services to the people without much resentment. For his stature, this is not a mean achievement for the present Chief Minister.
In this context, the release of Sasikala will play a crucial role either in strengthening the AIADMK or weakening the same for the benefit of the DMK. It is rational to believe that she will take the first course of action as it is beneficial to her and the AIADMK.
The writer is a former Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. Views expressed are personal