In light of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa prolonged hospitalisation, her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has gone back to its standard strategy. All the portfolios handled by the Chief Minister have been handed over to Jayalalithaa’s trusted lieutenant and Finance Minister O Paneerselvam, making him the face of the state government for the next few months.
Panneerselvam had twice been a stand-in for Jayalalithaa, the last one during her trial in the Disproportionate Assets case heard in Karnataka High Court. His loyalty to the Chief Minister has been well-documented by the media. In 2014, for instance, he took oath with her picture in his pocket and reportedly refused to enter the Chief Minister's office.
On this occasion, he has taken up additional portfolios "on the advice of Chief Minister". Quite naturally, this statement lacks a little conviction, as she is believed to be critically ill and not allowed to meet visitors. In other words, the AIADMK is trying to send out a message that despite her poor health, she remains in charge and it does not matter who actually handles the affairs of the state government.
The interim shuffle of portfolios has ensured that the state will not have to go under Governor's rule, which some in the Opposition were eager to introduce. In the absence of “Amma”, the AIADMK will have to convince their electorate that her absence does not dent the credibility of the state government. As long as one can remember, the party and its politics have based on the personality of Jayalalithaa. She has remained omnipresent in the party, brooking no dissent. In fact, some political commentators have observed that no other leaders were allowed to grow.
Most government welfare schemes and even flood relief are packaged under her name. Amma is not getting any younger. If she seeks to establish her legacy after death, there is no doubt that a credible second rung of leaders needs to be established. Tamil Nadu remains a key cog in India’s economic growth engine, as a manufacturing hub with a massive proportion of skilled labour. It needs a stable government to ensure that the wheels of development do not come to a grinding halt.