Ruling AIADMK: Perils ahead
Political turmoils in Tamil Nadu post-Jaya have heightened with the split in the ruling AIADMK and the breakaway group led by former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, claiming to be the rightful heir to Amma's mantle, ahead of a crucial by-poll (April 12) in Chennai's R K Nagar constituency.
The ruling party is already being pilloried by the DMK Leader of Opposition M K Stalin on many issues to keep up the heat till he hopes to see a mid-term poll. Stalin's efforts to dislodge the Speaker Dhanapal, a nominee of late Jayalalithaa, were frustrated on March 23, with his no-confidence motion defeated in the Assembly by 122 votes to 97.
Tamil Nadu is going through its worst drought in 140 years. Weak economic growth and demonetisation had also affected the state's revenue receipts. A valiant attempt has been made by the Government headed by E Palanisami in the recent budget for 2017/18 to remain fiscally responsible without giving up its welfare orientation.
According to Finance Minister D Jayakumar, the economy is slowly picking up and in spite of severe constraints on Revenue Receipts, the overall Fiscal Deficit, net borrowings and debt-GSDP ratio would be held within permissible limits except for fiscal deficit in 2018/19. The State awaits investment revival after the recent period of political uncertainty.
The Election Commission's freezing of the party's prestigious "Two Leaves" symbol on March 22 and its direction to both factions to not use the party name as well in their campaigns may prove potentially disastrous for the future of AIADMK, especially in a crowded battlefield. If the Sasikala faction, which runs the Government, does not win, it may begin to lose credibility faster than the rebel group.
With the new symbols allotted by the Commission, 'Hut' for the Sasikala faction (currently the Palanisami government) and 'Electric Pole' for the rebel group of O Panneerselvam, the rivals face a tough battle in trying to win over the larger section of the electorate, which had in the past crazily voted for "Amma" and "Two Leaves" more than for the party.
TTV Dhinakaran, party's deputy general secretary, candidate for the Sasikala faction, now known as AIADMK (Amma), and E Madhusudnan of the Panneerselvam camp with the label "AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma) have both filed their nominations in the Assembly constituency R K Nagar.
While Dhinakaran is confident of a win for the re-christened party – AIADMK (Amma) – Panneerselvam gets a level playing field and his candidate, Madhusudanan, is well-known in the area. He was elected once in 1991 to become a Minister. The denial of the party's traditional symbol has put both factions at risk, and any division of votes could work to Stalin's advantage.
Chief Minister E Palaniswami, her nominee, has won a confidence vote in February, receiving the support of 122 members in the 234-member TN Assembly. The rebel group led by Panneerselvam had only 12 votes. Earlier, the uproarious DMK opposition (89), insisting on a secret ballot had been eased out of the House by watch and ward staff. Its ally Congress (9) had walked out before the vote.
This is not the first time that AIADMK got divided into two groups with claims for the succession of leadership. A split had occurred in 1988 with two factions, one of Janaki Ramachandran and another of Jayalalithaa, the party's propaganda secretary. EC decided to freeze the party symbol before the January 1989 elections and two different symbols were allotted to them then.
Today's scenario is quite different, with the passing away of Jayalalithaa, the charismatic leader who took AIADMK to spectacular victories, winning two successive state elections and asserting her own stature by capturing 37 out of 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu in 2014, entirely unaffected by a Modi wave across the country. No longer in robust health, Jayalalithaa, still led the party to a comfortable margin victory in May 2016 Assembly election.
In the aftermath of the passing away of Jayalalithaa, the Governor invited O Panneerselvam and his Cabinet colleagues to be sworn in, and later the Assembly was to be called for the Government to secure a vote of confidence.
With large sections of the party favouring V K Sasikala to take up leadership of the organisation, she was appointed as General Secretary, the highest post, pending a regular election. Panneerselvam himself had joined in promoting her rise to the party post.
However, some AIADMK leaders insisting on Sasikala, who was regarded as "Chinnamma" next only to Jayalalithaa should head the Government. It was at this stage Panneerselvam decided to break ranks and organise his rebel group.
He also had strong backing from some of the party MPs and social media. Even as the date for the Assembly had been fixed and Sasikala was exploring her own path, and her hopes were dashed to the ground with the Supreme Court's dismissal of her earlier acquittal and enforcing the Special Court conviction and sentence in the Disproportionate Assets Case.
Before re-entering prison in Bengaluru, Sasikala, drawing support from a large majority of party MLAs, nominated E Palaniswami to stake his claim, and he was asked by the Governor to take a vote of the House. Subsequently, Sasikala nominated T V Dinakaran, a former MP, to be deputy general secretary.
Dinakaran has already declared himself the party candidate for the byelection in R K Nagar. The Panneerselvam group has nominated E Madusudanan, an old associate of the party.
The Sasikala faction continues to maintain that there is no split in the party but the Election Commission did not accept this line and said the dispute had to be finally settled. Now, both factions, deprived of the famous symbol and party name, would have to test out their claims in R K Nagar constituency, which returned late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa twice with a vast majority.
The poll outcome in this battleground at this stage looks unpredictable as besides rival candidates of what has become a fragile AIADMK to fight each other, and there are other contenders, notably DMK nominee Maruthu Ganesh, who belongs to this constituency. It will be a multi-cornered battle for R K Nagar, as there are quite a few other candidates from smaller parties.
BJP, though not successful in its efforts so far, now looks more confidently for a breakthrough in Tamil Nadu. BJP has lately been very active in taking up with Centre issues of concern to Tamil Nadu and the Modi sweep in UP has kindled new hopes in the state BJP leaders. BJP's Pon Radhakrishnan (Minister of State for Road Transport and Shipping) is highly optimistic that his party would begin to repeat its winning streak in UP, in Tamil Nadu as well, making gains in the forthcoming byelection followed by local body elections in May. TN to will see BJP rule soon, he asserts, as the people would like to be freed from "corrupt governance" of the two Dravidian majors for 50 years.