It has been a year since Jayalalithaa passed away and the AIADMK splintered hopelessly. Her aide Sasikala has been behind the bars. O Panneerselvam, her choice to fill in as Chief Minister the two times she went to jail, got the upper hand, but could not take it to the logical conclusion as that honour went E Palaniswami's way. Sasikala emerged as the big loser. She sought to take over the party as well as the government but failed on both counts. However, her absence has not helped the AIADMK to coalesce. The divisions and individual ambitions continue to persist.
Jayalalithaa dominated the AIADMK like no one before or after her has. O Panneerselvam and E Palaniswami have not been able to replicate Jaya's stature—years of paying obeisance and lying prostrate before the demigod has left a mark on them. They cannot command respect, much less demand it. The political vacuum left by the demise of Jayalalithaa remains. Everybody wants to fill the vacant space but nobody knows just how. Maybe the RK Nagar by-election will throw up some guesses along with surprises. But, it would be just speculation without the conviction of a conclusive answer. Winning the RK Nagar – Jaya's assembly constituency – seat has, therefore, become an imperative for both the EPS-OPS and TTV Dinakaran camps. In the run-up to the by-election, both splinters are staking their claim over the massive Jaya legacy. It appears that a dead Jaya has acquired more political clout than a living Jaya did.
Meanwhile, the series of I-T raids have placed the EPS-OPS camp in a perception dock. The belief that the party is "tainted" cannot be washed or wished away. With Sasikala safe behind the bars, the onus is on the EPS-OPS camp to come clean and repair the damage. The RK Nagar by-election will be held on December 21. The nomination process is on. Every contender, from Jaya's niece Deepa Jayakumar to actor Vishal, has invoked Jayalalithaa's name. Both Deepa and Vishal filed their nomination papers but Deepa's were consigned to the dustbin and Vishal had to squat to be heard. Deepa is perhaps the only tragic figure in the ensemble. She was shunned by Jayalalithaa and only the death of her aunt drew her to Poes Garden. She soon found that she was completely at sea. Jaya's coterie, even without Jaya around, was too entrenched to be dislodged. An attempt to grab the keys to Poes Garden was foiled. It is unlikely that Deepa Jayakumar will ever make it in politics.
Actor Vishal squatted on the road for a while before he claimed to have received the go-ahead from the Election Commission. There were, however, conflicting reports on whether his nomination papers were rejected or accepted. If the second is true, he will be contesting as an independent. The BJP continues to be in a political wilderness, despite Amit Shah and Narendra Modi's efforts to initiate a difference. The BJP lacks the presence of a strong leader at the state-level. But not to be left completely out, the "party of north India" has thrown whatever little strength it has in Tamil Nadu behind the ruling AIADMK camp, which, as it turns out, is quite willing to be wooed. The courtship will continue only if the AIADMK wins the RK Nagar seat. If it doesn't all bets are off.
Once a formidable rival, the DMK has been rather quiet. With wily Karunanidhi more or less out of circulation despite the wheelchair, the party has not been able to make a splash, the kind which catapulted Karunanidhi to power, not once but twice. His son Stalin has not been able to take advantage of the split in AIADMK and there is no news of elder brother Alagiri at all. Is he even alive? 'Big Boss' Kamal Hassan, after making all the right noises and singing praises for Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's brand of politics, has, it seems, gone underground. Neither he nor Rajinikanth has much to say about the RK Nagar by-election, who they support or who they don't. Both actors, it appears, have learned that in politics, sometimes it helps to keep mum than cry Amma!
All in all, Tamil Nadu now rests in a potpourri. The Congress Party, which is missing in action, the only Congress Tamilian with name recognition, Mani Shankar Aiyer, is too caught up in party affairs to spare a thought for RK Nagar and the by-election there. The no-election at 24 Akbar Road cannot be missed, come what may. So, Aiyer is firing from all cylinders to curry favour with the help of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, the two long-dead Mughals.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)