The squabble for chief ministership of Tamil Nadu in the post-Jayalalithaa phase of Dravidian politics has pushed the fifth most industrialised state of the country towards the brink of political instability. Without a CM in office the state faces a constitutional crisis on how to decide who the new person would be. The Election Commission of India has reportedly highlighted the impropriety in the election of Sasikala, as an interim AIADMK general secretary, because such a position does not exist in the party’s organisational structure.
The Tamil people nurture their cultural nationalism and neither voted for the Congress in the post-Kamaraj phase since 1967 nor did more recently allow the BJP to gain a toe hold in the state. Charismatic leadership and cult following characterises Tamil Nadu politics which has partially deteriorated to dynastic politics. Otherwise the legendary Madhavan Ganeshan Ramachandran’s (MGR) wife Janaki lasted only 28 days as CM, but his soul partner Jayalalithaa was a six-term chief minister. Now the late Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar has yet to inherit her paternal aunt’s political office. The absence of a clear line of succession is another feature of Dravidian politics over the last 50 years.
The late Jayalalithaa nominally appointed O Paneerselvam (OPS) in her absence to manage the government and administration -- but not the AIADMK. He could never inherit her charisma nor possess her mass appeal that largely evolved through her proximity to MGR. The nonagenarian DMK stalwart M Karunanidhi has appointed his son Stalin working president of the DMK which is not the same as a cult leader. Only Karunanidhi stakes claim to be the DMK’s cult leader. Similarly, Bal Thackeray was a cult leader who left the nuts and bolts of administration and party management to his nephew and son Raj and Udhav Thackeray respectively. While Mahatma Gandhi appointed Vinobha Bhave his successor, the latter could never acquire the power of the Mahatma’s personality.
In the post-Jayalalithaa phase, OPS enjoys maximum credibility to be CM considering the late Jayalalithaa actually appointed him CM when she was disqualified after the Supreme Court debarred her from holding office in 2001 and subsequently by the Karnataka court in 2014. Even in the aftermath of Cyclone Vardah in December 2016 and the recent Jallikattu protests, his government largely handled the situation effectively. Sections of the media even reported that OPS had significantly earned the respect of the Tamil people for the manner in which he handled the Jallikatu issue.
Clearly the fissures within the AIADMK are evident from the fact that a section of MLAs and ministers demanded that Sasikala be made the CM despite OPS doing a good job. This could be attributed to the power dynamics within the AIADMK wherein the proportion of MLA’s to ministers suggests that the Thevars, who are dominant in central and southern Tamil Nadu, were given more prominence than the Gounders with a strong presence in western Tamil Nadu. While nine Thevars hold ministerial berths from 20 MLA’s, whereas only five Gounders held ministerial positions with 28 MLA’s from their community. This was actually cited as a reason why some of the senior Gounder leaders lately raised voices of dissent against OPS’s chief ministership.
Whether Sasikala can become the next CM of Tamil Nadu or not revolves largely around the Tamil peoples’ acceptance of her leadership rather than legal and constitutional considerations. While most MLAs support Sasikala’s candidature for chief ministership, whether the grassroot AIADMK workers show the same affection and loyalty towards her is debatable.
Besides, the fledgling entry of Jayalaithaa’s niece, Deepa Jayaram into the political fray with some level of support from party members only indicates that Sasikala does not necessarily enjoy overwhelming support from all quarters.
OPS staged a dramatic revolt only after he was sure that there was public resentment against Sasikala. He questioned his sacking on moral grounds and how MLAs and ministers could ask Sasikala to replace him as CM. Even during the Jallikattu protest deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha Thambidurai, an MP from the AIADMK, an earlier CM aspirant, had led a contingent of MP’s to meet Modi, but could not do so because OPS preempted him.
Read: SWOT analysis: Panneerselvam has the strength to defeat Sasikala, but his weaknesses are many
Evidently the absence of inner party democracy is another feature of Dravidian politics. Dissent within the party surfaced when some MLAs and Ministers asked Sasikala to head the party, but it was silenced swiftly. Another commonality was that legendary Tamil leaders like Annadurai, MGR and Jayalalitha had no heirs, which compounds the complexity to succession in leadership.
Clearly Tamil leaders lack a strategic vision beyond their life time and have never identified a second line of leadership to succeed them. This has proved to be a consistent problem in Tamil politics, which has only contributed to political instability which in turn affects the investment climate and in the long term the economic growth.
Rajesh Aruchamy is an assistant professor with the department of media studies, Christ University, Bangalore