A political turmoil within the AIADMK has plunged Tamil Nadu into an unprecedented crisis with no elected mayors, panchayat heads or city councils across the state.
Caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam’s dramatic rebellion against general secretary VK Sasikala on Tuesday threatens to split the party and derail an otherwise smooth transition after former CM Jayalalithaa’s death.
But Tamil Nadu’s administrative lurch extends far beyond the state government headquarters at Chennai’s Fort St George.
Across the state, city corporations, municipal areas, and panchayats are being administered by special officers because local body elections have not yet been held.
Municipal elections were cancelled last October after the poll notification faced several legal challenges.
This means that large swathes of Tamil Nadu are being run by bureaucrats without a working political leadership.
To make things worse, many senior bureaucrats appointed by Jayalalithaa who had experience in steering the state through difficult times have either left the government or been replaced by Sasikala.
Santha Sheela Nair, a retired IAS officer who was appointed as a special attache to the chief minister’s office, resigned on Tuesday citing “personal reasons.”
Last Friday, a mere two days before Sasikala was appointed leader of the AIADMK legislative party, Sheela Balakrishnan - a close assistant of Jayalalithaa who helped run the state during the former CM’s 75-day hospitalisation - also quit.
Two other Jaya loyalists, KN Venkataramanan and A Ramalingam who were secretaries in the chief minister’s office, were also replaced.
The council of ministers itself has been paralysed by the rebellion.
Before being packed off to a resort on Wednesday, the ministers spent their time shuffling between the party headquarters in Royapettah and Jayalalithaa’s official residence in Poes Garden, where Sasikala is staying now.
The political vacuum has exacerbated the state’s potent problems - from the worst drought in 140 years, and the resultant farmer suicides to acute water shortages.
Acting governor Vidyasagar Rao’s silence on the matter has further added to the uncertainty.
Several senior leaders, including Congress’ Abhishek Manu Singhvi, have accused the BJP of manipulating Rao for political gain in Tamil Nadu.
It is still unclear what course of action Rao will take upon landing in Chennai later on Thursday afternoon. But either way, what is clear is that a decision is needed, and quickly, to prevent further strains on an already overtaxed administration.