On a day when Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam is in New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek financial assistance for the damage caused by Cyclone Vardah, there is a growing chorus within the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) that Sasikala Natarajan, a close aide of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, become the party’s general secretary and chief minister. Is the relatively peaceful transition of power seen in Tamil Nadu after the demise of Jayalalithaa unravelling?
On December 6 Tamil Nadu surprised everyone. Many thought the state would witness widespread chaos after the death of Jayalalithaa — much like what was seen after the demise of former chief minister MG Ramachandran in 1987. However, not only did the people of the state display rare composure but life was back to normal from the next day.
The state government too reflected this normalcy with Mr Panneerselvam becoming chief minister. The efficiency of the government was evident in the way it tackled the damage caused by Cyclone Vardah that hit Chennai and northern parts of the state on December 12. Unlike last year when Chennai was flooded and the State was missing in action, this time, it was well prepared from issuing early warnings to co-ordinating with disaster management teams to giving the bureaucracy a free hand to work. It was the first major test for Mr Panneerselvam and he showed that he was cut out for the job.
Things, however, are not very clear in the AIADMK. Traditionally the chief minister of an AIADMK government is the party’s general secretary. This has helped in the smooth functioning of the government and the party. However, after Jaya’s demise and with Mr Panneerselvam becoming CM, if Ms Sasikala were to become general secretary — as is the demand by majority of the MLAs and cadre — it would in effect create two power centres in the state. And this could be detrimental for governance.
Tamil Nadu, especially at this time, does not have room for political ambiguity. The state is facing several challenges with some of its financial indicators in the red: For example, the fiscal deficit for 2016-17 is ₹40,533 crore, close to the limit set by the Centre.
Ms Sasikala’s accession to power has been challenged in the court and though she had been Jaya’s close aide for three decades, little is known about her political capabilities. Also, the growing demand in favour of Ms Sasikala puts Mr Panneerselvam in a precarious position.
This fog of uncertainty over the ruling party in Tamil Nadu should not extend or affect the functioning of the government.