The question of who after Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu’s context is somewhat redundant. Her stature as the unquestioned leader of the AIADMK for three decades after her mentor MG Ramachandran passed away in 1987 means the party may not find an obvious replacement quickly.
The simple reason being, unlike the its bitter opponent DMK where for all the sibling rivalry, a second level of leadership has been promoted over the years, the AIADMK has remained an exclusively one-leader party.
Very often Amma’s loyalists would openly proclaim her as the permanent general secretary of the AIADMK. In this backdrop, nobody within the party would dare to think of being the alternate face, even after her sad demise on Monday night.
But it does not imply a political vacuum as the AIADMK has comfortably won all the three recent assembly bye polls and took its tally to 136 out of the 234 member house. These numbers give the party a certain level of level of comfort and there is no immediate threat to the AIDAMK government, now led by O Pannerselvam after being sworn in early Tuesday morning.
“Three fourths of the present AIADMK MLAs cannot win the next elections. So they would blindly follow whoever is nominated,” said Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University. “Neither would the DMK, with 98 MLAs and 30 short of majority, think of breaking AIADMK to form a government,” he said.
It is an open secret that Jayalalithaa’s longtime companion and confidante, Sasikala Natarajan continues to wield considerable clout within the party. What is her role going to be now under the new circumstances remains to be seen.
The 2016 scenario is in direct contrast to the situation that unfolded to the situation when her mentor and party founder MG Ramachandran died in 1987.
At that time, Jayalalithaa was already a popular leader. But MGR’s wife Janaki, propped up by a senior minister claimed her husband’s political legacy which sparked off intense and open fight between the two women in MGR’s life.
Jayalalihtaa was backed by another section of senior leaders like Panruti Ramachandran and S Thirunavukkrasu (now TNCC chief).
In fact, then, thousands of mourners saw the unseemly predicament of Jayalalithaa being thrown out of the gun carriage when MG’s body was being taken for cremation.
But today there is hardly any parallel to such scenario and in the absence of a charismatic figure to physically present to preside over the combined legacy of MGR and Amma. But it does nothing to the party and AIADMK does not face any threat of immediate disintegration.
If not anything, AIADMK and the government would try to cash in more on the Amma brand.
The national parties could certainly get more aggressive to fill the space when both the Dravidian majors face a crisis. However, if the BJP backs the present dispensation, it has chances to team up with the AIADMK in future. “The BJP stands to gain by supporting the present arrangement as they could tie up with AIADMK in future,” said Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Congress would like to get closer to the AIADMK and hints to this effect were given when it named S Thirunavukkarasar as its new TNCC chief. Thirunavukkarasar is a former MGR acolyte and an AIADMK stalwart himself.