Some are calling it Tamil Nadu’s Game of Thrones or House of Cards but that does not explain the current political developments in the southern state.
This political soap does not have a predetermined script and is evolving on its own, with possible unseen mutations.
Come to think about it: It was only nine months ago that the AIADMK broke a 30-year anti-incumbency cycle to come to power and it seemed nothing could weaken J Jayalalithaa’s party. But then, five months ago Jaya herself fell ill and from there started the AIADMK’s downward spiral. Two months ago things further nosedived when she passed away, and in the past week a revolt has broken out between Jaya’s aide VK Sasikala and her political lieutenant O Panneerselvam (OPS) for the chief minister’s post and party leadership.
All this has been accompanied with the political melodrama that is now expected in Indian politics: Jaya’s spirit talks to OPS, party MLAs are bussed off to a resort, and, probably in a first, the governor was missing from action for a few days.
It is not sure how this will end, but one thing is clear — OPS will emerge as the victor. He will have the last laugh no matter which way the wind blows. The best case scenario for him is to become CM and leader the AIADMK, the worst is to break the party, stop Sasikala and in the process become a political heavyweight in Tamil Nadu.
Given this, it’s timely to look at the strength, weakness, opportunities and threats OPS faces.
His soft-spoken image and a “people’s leader” approach have already won him tremendous goodwill among the people of Tamil Nadu. That he was Jaya’s choice for the CM’s post while she was busy fighting legal cases works in his favour. He brings with him a fresh hands-on approach to governance, which is a welcome change from the caravan politics of both Jaya and M Karunanidhi, both former CMs.
Even if Sasikala wins this round, and is sworn in as CM, OPS, with the backing of the people will ride on an anti-Sasikala wave, which could be in the form of protests or dissent within the party.
OPS, unlike Sasikala, is not a first among equals within the AIADMK. Even if he wins the current battle and becomes party leader and CM, he will inherit a fractured AIADMK and a group of MLAs who do not owe their allegiance to him.
He is not a formidable leader who commands the loyalty of the party machinery, and this could hamper his bargaining power while speaking with the Centre for the state. Tamil Nadu has seen strong leaders who were capable of bargaining with New Delhi from a position of power — OPS does not have that charisma.
OPS, many allege, has been encouraged to revolt by the BJP — he will have to work overtime to dismiss such allegations.
OPS really has the chance to cast the AIADMK in a fresh mould and make it a party that is not a one-leader wonder. Both MGR and Jaya failed to develop leaders within the party, OPS can learn from their mistakes.
Not many Tamil Nadu leaders have enjoyed this level of support — it would then be a pity if he does not work towards changing the political discourse in the state.
For starters, he can bring in more democracy into the party, discontinue the mindless sycophancy that one equates AIADMK with and even put an end to the freebie culture, which is not helping the state.
Sasikala will be his greatest threat in the near future. If OPS manages to cull out adequate numbers to reclaim the CM’s post, expect Sasikala to rock his boat. This threat will increase if the Supreme Court acquits her in the DA case.
The Opposition too will make sure that OPS does not become a formidable challenger in the 2021 state polls.
OPS will have to work overtime to keep the party from disintegrating. OPS has showed glimpses of an able CM, but his leadership qualities are untested.
Whoever runs the AIADMK government for the next four years, one thing is sure: It will not be smooth sailing.