The political scenario in Tamil Nadu has changed with the release of V K Sasikala, the former aide of late Chief MInister J Jayalalitha, even though she is in hospital. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is trying to put up an united face despite the difference between Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and his deputy O Panneer Selvam (OPS), but the party is in jitters.
The inauguration of Jayalalitha’s memorial and the release of Sasikala took place on January 27, which many feel is not a coincidence. The very next day saw the residence of Jayalalitha being inaugurated as a memorial house. The present AIADMK leadership now wants to stake claim to the legacy of Jayalalitha and aims to keep Sasikala away, with the state elections fast approaching.
The inaugurations came after four years of Jayalalitha’s demise, which has made many point fingers at the AIADMK leadership for making it an election propaganda.
Though the AIADMK leadership have brushed away the possibilities of another split or the re-entry of Sasikala to the party, local leaders are speaking in a different voice, much to the discomfort of the leadership.
The breakaway faction, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) led by TTV Dhinakaran, is keeping their cards close to their chest, leaving the EPS and OPS duo to contemplate even longer.
EPS & OPS: FORCED TO PUT UP UNITED FACE?
The AIADMK is still a divided house, in spite of EPS being announced as the CM candidate by the party. The clout of EPS has grown with time, much to the discomfort of the OPS camp. The recent publicity blitz by the AIADMK government has neglected OPS in toto, forcing him to run his own campaign.
The release of Sasikala has emerged as a double-edged sword for the two warring factions led by EPS and OPS. The leaders are locking horns and trying to increase their clout, while Sasikala’s release could dent their hopes, at least to a small extent.
Despite the differences, the inaugurations were well timed, party insiders say. Both of the leaders are considering the upcoming elections as an ‘all or nothing’ battle. The AIADMK has been more of a fan-based party since its formation by late CM M G Ramachandran (MGR), which Jayalalitha also inherited in her own style.
A loss in the upcoming election could well lead to the disintegration of the party, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is longing to happen. Such circumstances are forcing EPS and OPS to stay together, at least for now.
'SASIKALA'S RELEASE EXPANDS DIVIDE'
Sasikala has won a soft corner among the party cadres who feel that she was targeted by the BJP for its political gains. This is the very reason why the divide in the AIADMK could further expand.
Jeeva Sagapthan, a political observer, told NewsClick, "There is a very serious divide within the party with the rise of EPS. The leaders of the southern belt are disturbed with the dominance of the leaders of the west. This, coupled with the sympathy for Sasikala, has also expanded her support base within the party.”
The AIADMK had to sack district-level leaders on January 27 for publishing statements and posters welcoming the release of Sasikala. Her support base could expand or contract, based on her stand on the BJP in the immediate future.
"The undeterred support of the AIADMK government to the BJP is another talking point among the parry ranks. Many grassroot workers are unhappy with the AIADMK-BJP alliance. If Sasikala follows the same pattern, her support base would decrease", Jeeva added.
JAYALALITHA’S LEGACY: NEED OF THE HOUR
To save its face from the internal squabbles and the Sasikala-TTV Dhinakaran threat, the EPS-OPS duo is staking claim to Jayalalitha’s legacy at a very high pitch. But, in reality, the AIADMK government has compromised on many policies of their late leaders, including the rights of the state in the federal structure.
The AIADMK, bereaved of any charismatic leadership, appears to be invoking the legacy of Jayalalitha. Apart from allegations of failure in preventing the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions, claiming Goods and Sales Tax (GST) dues, police firing against anti-Sterlite protesters, support for farm laws and Hindi imposition, the party has the anti-incumbency factor to fight as well.
The party, left with little option to project themselves as a credible force has been accused of using public money for seeking publicity. The urgency of opening the memorials of the late leader falls under the similar category, observers feel. The opening of the memorials were held with massive publicity, also at the expense of public money.
COVID-19 PROTOCOLS ON A TOSS
The memorial, built at an area of 50,000 square feet at a cost of Rs 80 crores, saw the COVID-19 protocols being sent for a toss. The government has banned major gatherings including the ‘Gram Sabha’ meeting held during the Republic Day every year.
The government cited the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic for the cancellation of the gram sabhas, but found the conduct of inaugural programmes unavoidable. The AIADMK government was accused of diluting the COVID-19 protocols, including the opening of theatres with 100% occupancy, which it had to retract later.
The city came to a standstill, as hundreds of thousands of AIADMK cadres stormed the city, as a show of strength. Many political parties accused the government of spending so much money from the state exchequer for the leader who was convicted in a disproportionate assets case.
The AIADMK, by all means, has a litmus test to pass in the form of Assembly elections. With the party and the government leaving no stone unturned, the run up to the Assembly election is getting thick and fast.