Both Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam want to become the AIADMK’s CM candidate in the assembly elections next year. V K Sasikala’s entry further complicates the brewing tension within the party
Almost four years ago, the visuals of VK Sasikala, close aide of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, thumping at the grave of her close friend thrice, in a dramatic manner were beamed repeatedly by television channels. There were different interpretations to the theatrics she enacted before setting off for jail in Bengaluru, where she is currently serving time in a case of amassing wealth beyond her known sources of income.
As her release from prison is expected any day now, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK’s) top brass, including Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and party co-ordinator O Panneerselvam, are waiting to find the real meaning of her actions then, and whether the intensity of her emotions retain the same vigour, since much water has flown down the Cauvery since then.
Sasikala’s lawyers say she can walk free by the end of September, or the beginning of October. According to the answer to an RTI query, she would be released on January 27, provided she pays a fine of Rs 10 crore as per the judgment against her. While her supporters who are part of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), a party formed by her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, assert that she would bring the AIADMK back to her control, there are people within the ruling party, such as former MP Anwar Raja, who openly say that her comeback will transform Tamil Nadu politics.
Barring the lone voice of a minister, the reaction to the speculations and assertions is muted and none of the top leaders of the AIADMK are ready to rule out her re-entry into the party which unanimously elected her as the general secretary, a few weeks before her imprisonment. The AIADMK’s executive meeting on September 28 and the general council later is likely to discuss more on Sasikala’s re-entry.
To a pointed question to Palaniswami on September 21 on whether Sasikala will be re-admitted into the AIADMK, he cautiously said “As of now, the question does not arise”, implying that her re-entry will be considered at the right time. Palaniswami’s careful reply is a subtle reminder of his gratefulness to ‘Chinnamma’, who made him the Chief Minister, ensuring an AIADMK majority through the Koovathur resort politics. In fact, Palaniswami has never spoken a word against Sasikala, even though he had lashed out at Dhinakaran a few times.
However, it is doubtful if Palaniswami will be ready to hand over the reins of power fully to ‘Chinnamma’ and restore the status quo before her imprisonment. He is not the same man which he used to be — bowing respectfully with folded hands before Sasikala four years ago. He has faced numerous challenges, remained in power for four years and has his own followers reverently calling him EPS.
Palaniswami has made known his ambitions of becoming the AIADMK’s chief ministerial candidate for the 2021 assembly elections. However, he may not be against the idea of giving the party’s control to Sasikala, if such a deal helps him to overcome the challenge of Panneerselvam who stands in his way of becoming CM again. However, the place of Dhinakaran, who has stood by Sasikala when ministers and AIADMK leaders deserted her, must be decided in such an arrangement. Dhinakaran has refused to accept Palaniswami as the Chief Minister or the party leader so far and wants the AIADMK to return to Sasikala’s control unconditionally.
Panneerselvam, known to switch his loyalties in the past, too has the option of coming to an understanding with Sasikala to win his battle against Palaniswami. Since, his position in the party and government is weak, he may be willing to accept Sasikala or even Dhinakaran as his leader. After all, it was Sasikala who made Panneerselvam the Chief Minister in 2001, when Jayalalithaa had to resign following a Supreme Court verdict. Panneerselvam was a first time legislator then. However, it is doubtful if Sasikala or Dhinakaran, who consider Panneerselvam as a traitor, will accept his olive branch.
The major hurdle for Sasikala will be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership which does not want her to come back into the AIADMK since it feels that she cannot be controlled like Palaniswami or Panneerselvam. It is expected to use everything in its armoury to stop her from meddling in AIADMK affairs. She has supporters like Subramanian Swamy in the BJP.
It is to be seen if Sasikala has the shrewdness and sagacity to defeat the saffron party’s game plan or work out a patch up to re-enter the AIADMK.N Ravikumar is a Chennai-based senior journalist. Views are personal.