This time, a year ago, the question asked in muted tones was: Will the AIADMK win? The party was contesting elections to break an anti-incumbency curse that had been haunting Tamil Nadu for three decades.
Under then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa the party broke that curse and how.
The AIADMK was then a force to reckon with — its leader was an iron lady who carved out her space in a male-dominated political canvas and was among the few leaders who could look Delhi in the eye. Stopping this juggernaut seemed impossible, even for the versifier in Kalaignar or an MK Stalin who changed his sartorial choices to attract young voters.
Today, a year later, the question asked at just about every street corner is: Will the AIADMK survive this wave of uncertainty? It looks uncertain and when this turmoil is over what is left will be a pale shadow of a once resounding voice of Dravidian pride.
Since Jayalalithaa’s death in December, the party and the government have gone into a tailspin. They resemble a rudderless boat with a divided crew and a broken mast. The present party leader is much like King Joffrey of the popular fantasy TV drama Game of Thrones — his popularity among courtiers is not shared by the masses.
Oddly enough, these uncertainties are about a party that has absolute majority in the assembly.
But that’s how the wheel of fortune turns in Indian politics, especially in parties run as fiefdoms by their leaders — leaders whose vision for their state is acknowledged world over but who are blind to the immediate future of their party. AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran and his successor Jayalalithaa both failed to build a leadership chain and appoint a political heir when alive. Much of the current instability is because of this.
Today, the AIADMK is staring at an uncertain future. After a fierce battle, the O Panneerselvam camp is ready to mend fences with the main party (the ‘VK Sasikala’ faction) but on the condition that the ‘Mannargudi mafia’ — a reference to Sasikala and her family members associated with the party — is kept out of the party. This coincides with an inter-caste Vanniyar-Gounder battle brewing in the Sasikala faction of the party.
So engrossed is the ruling party in the crisis that it has been unable to address many of the problems the state is facing — its inability to deal with farmer suicides is one of the examples.
“It looks like Panneerselvam and [chief minister] Edappadi [Palanisami] will join hands and push [TTV] Dinakaran and the rest out of the party. Sasikala is no longer a political factor. Their joining hands will save the ‘Two Leaves’ party symbol and the MLAs will flock towards them,” says G Babu Jayakumar, a senior journalist in Chennai.
But there is another fallout from this crisis which is set to change not only the AIADMK but also the face of Tamil Nadu politics. The infighting and probable reunion will not do much to boost the morale of the disillusioned party cadre. Both OPS and Edappadi are not leaders with a mass appeal to galvanise the rank and file of the party. They might be able to sideline Dinakaran but that will not help take the party to its past glory. The cadre that leaves the AIADMK will not gravitate towards the DMK, but to any other party that looks promising — and at the moment it’s the BJP which is that shining star.
“The BJP is already controlling some sections of the AIADMK. More than that, its party cadre and the RSS are focusing on the grassroot level. This, along with a push from Delhi, will make the BJP a major player in Tamil Nadu in a very short time,” says a professor from Anna University who did not choose to be identified.
The AIADMK has faced all this and more even before completing a year in office. If this was a movie—yes, the umbilical cord connecting politics and cinema in Tamil Nadu is yet to be cut — the parallel would be: Before the interval, we have the protagonist dying after great suspense and speculation, this is followed by a gun battle between her friend and political heir, her friend ends up in a jail cell, this leads to twists and turns of such proportion that even Quentin Tarantino could not have scripted it.