Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death overnight has thrown up a big question: Can the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) survive her death?
When the party’s founder and her political mentor MG Ramachandran died in 1987—also of cardiac arrest after prolonged illness— people had the same question in mind. He was equally venerated and adulated to the point of obsession and hysteria.
“Why should Madras survive when MGR is no more?” newspapers quoted his rioting fans after his death.
But the AIADMK survived after a brief power-tussle between MGR’s wife Janaki and Jayalalithaa who became the chief minister four years later.
A celluloid deity, Jayalalithaa was able to fill MGR’s void in public consciousness. There is no charismatic leader to succeed her now.
O Panneerselvam, the new CM, is known only for his unabashed subservience to the late leader. He might spring a surprise but few expect him to. The AIADMK’s future remains uncertain in the absence of a leader who could step into Jayalalithaa’s shoes.
What happens to the Dravidian party following Amma’s demise will also hold lessons for those led by superpowerful Behenjis and Didis. Like the AIADMK, regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) depend on the personality cults of their supreme leaders—Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Naveen Patnaik. They also run their parties with iron fists and have shown no interest in developing a succession plan.
Some ambitious individuals, such as Pyarimohan Mohapatra of the BJD, tried to force it to their own peril.
Once the No 2 to Patnaik, with immense clout in the party and the state administration, Mohapatra staged a coup against Patnaik in 2012, only to see an end to his political career.
Mukul Roy, one of the founder members of the TMC, was emerging as No 2 to Didi but soon learnt his lessons as she threw him out of the party in February 2015, only to bring him back a year later.
No wonder, BSP leaders scoff at the very suggestion of being anyone other than Mayawati being influential.
Powerful regional chieftains might have reasons to be guarded.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu got his first term as CM in 1995 after a coup against his father-in-law NT Rama Rao, who was then the chief minister and the president of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
The AIADMK’s fate in the next few years could be a lesson to regional parties that have come to be identified with and subsumed into individual personalities.