Chinamma can never really fill Amma’s shoes
Not even her most ardent supporters claim Sasikala can successfully fill Jayalalithaa’s shoes. If she decides to take over as chief minister, she’ll have to stand for elections within six monthsUpdated: Dec 29, 2016 22:40 IST
The ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has clearly closed ranks by appointing Sasikala Natarajan, who was the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s shadow for more than two decades, as the party’s interim chief. This move was not unexpected, given that Sasikala has been virtually running the party in Jayalalithaa’s name for some time now as the late leader remained absent from public view because of spells in jail and her illnesses. Jayalalithaa was missing during much of the campaign for elections that returned her to power in May, leaving Sasikala to convey her orders to the party faithful. For a majority of the MLAs, Sasikala was their point of contact; she controlled access to Jayalalithaa. Chief minister O Panneerselvam owes his rise to Sasikala, a Thevar like him, and he made his affiliation clear by reading out the resolution making her interim party chief: “Just as we saw MGR in the form of Jayalalithaa, so too we see Amma in Sasikala.”
So does that mean Sasikala, who has never contested an election for public office, will take over party and government in some kind of natural progression? She has been very careful so far not to give the impression of being in a hurry to take charge. Even on Thursday, she stayed away from the meeting that elected her party chief. She is unlikely to immediately face opposition from among the MLAs, if nothing because no one wants to rock the boat with more than four years of the government’s term remaining. And whatever the party rank and file may think about the issue, there’s little they can do now. But if she decides to take over as chief minister, she will have to stand for elections within six months, which is a very different ball-game. Sasikala also faces cases related to corruption charges, which she will have to factor in before deciding her course of action.
In the larger context of democratic politics in Tamil Nadu, the vacuum left by Jayalalithaa can eventually trigger a fundamental reordering of the political landscape. For, not even her most ardent supporters will claim Sasikala can successfully fill Jayalalithaa’s shoes. This does not bode well for the future of the AIADMK as we know it today. Waiting in the wings are MK Stalin and the DMK and, don’t forget, the BJP, which sniffs a chance to finally make a mark in a state whose Dravidian ethos had so far kept it out. The biggest concern, however, is that the political machinations that appear inevitable can derail governance. The people of Tamil Nadu deserve better.