AIADMK row, Rajiv convicts’ release stirred politics in Tamil Nadu

Updated on Dec 28, 2022 12:15 AM IST

Sharpening his offensive against BJP-led Centre, Stalin shot off letters to 37 non-BJP leaders in a bid to form a consensus to ‘fight the threat of bigotry and religious hegemony’

AIADMK leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami after being elected as interim general secretary of the party, during the general council meeting of AIADMK, in Chennai in July 2022. The infighting within the AIADMK opened space for others in the opposition rank and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not need a second invitation to occupy the same. (PTI)
AIADMK leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami after being elected as interim general secretary of the party, during the general council meeting of AIADMK, in Chennai in July 2022. The infighting within the AIADMK opened space for others in the opposition rank and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not need a second invitation to occupy the same. (PTI)

The year 2022 saw the chief minister MK Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government, which completed 18 months in office, tightening its grip over the Tamil Nadu politics largely owing to a series of crises in the principal opposition party. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which turned 50 this year, saw former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami expelling his colleague-turned bugbear O Panneerselvam and thereby getting a strong hold of the party.

The infighting within the AIADMK opened space for others in the opposition rank and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not need a second invitation to occupy the same. The DMK also upped its offensive against the BJP-led Centre, with Stalin shooting off letters to 37 non-BJP leaders in a bid to form a consensus to “fight the threat of bigotry and religious hegemony”. Governor RN Ravi was also on target of the Stalin-led party calling him the saffron party’s hand.

The year also brought adulation to Stalin for successfully hosting India’s first Chess Olympiad in Chennai in a record time, after it was moved from Moscow, in July-August. He, however, received flak for deteriorating law-and-order situation amid a string of suicides by school-going children in the state, riots in Kallakurichi, and the terrorist blast in Coimbatore. The state continued to be tied closely to Tamils in Sri Lanka with several families landing on the shores fleeing the economic crisis in the island nation. Most political parties in the state, barring the Congress and the BJP, tried to take credit for the release of seven convicts serving life term in the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

Panneerselvam out of AIADMK

The AIADMK turned 50 this year, but the Dravidian major’s crises — which started with the demise of one of its tallest leaders and six-time chief minister J Jayalaithaa in December 2016 — have continued for over six years and is likely to carry on to 2023. EPS-OPS have stopped being a hyphenated entity after Palaniswami, who enjoys a brute majority from party’s leaders and rank and file, threw out Panneerselvam and his supporters in July during the party’s general council meeting.

A wounded OPS —who has been the state’s chief minister thrice in Jayalalithaa’s absence — has sought a legal relief, but even the Madras high court ruled in favour of EPS as the interim general secretary. Now, the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. The party’s future also has national implications as Tamil Nadu has been a duopoly state since the 1960s. The BJP, an ally of the AIADMK, is trying to seize the space to emerge as a strong opposition while EPS and OPS fight it out with VK Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran, who are on the sidelines trying to reclaim the AIADMK. The BJP, which was instrumental in brokering a temporary truce between EPS and OPS in 2017, has stayed away from their ally’s internal troubles this time around, but confirmed that the AIADMK will lead the NDA alliance in Tamil Nadu for the 2024 general elections.

DMK’s Dravidian Model vs Hindutva

The opposition alliance in the state has protested against the DMK government for price hike in electricity tariff, milk and deteriorating law and order, and yet the ruling party has not faced as much heat as the previous governments given the AIADMK’s preoccupation with its power struggle. DMK chief Stalin led the ruling alliance to another thumping victory in the urban local body polls in February, sweeping all the 21 city corporations, and winning 128 out of the 138 municipalities and 400 out of 489 panchayats. It was a mandate for their governance after the DMK coalition swept to power after a decade in the May 2021 assembly elections.

Being a key non-BJP chief minister, Stalin has emerged as a national player to rally other regional players to take on the Centre on various issues based on the principles of federalism, state autonomy and social justice, which he has branded as the Dravidian Model to go up against the BJP’s Hindutva. The relation between the state government and Raj Bhawan remained sour throughout the year. The ruling coalition has boycotted events headed by Governor Rn Ravi, describing his role as that of a “postman”. Lawmakers of the DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance in November submitted a memorandum to President Droupadi Murmu seeking removal of Ravi from the gubernatorial role, describing his statements as “communal”. They listed 20 legislations passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly which are pending with Ravi since he took over in September 2021.

Year of political heirs

The year 2022 saw founders of several regional parties in the state pass on the batons to their sons. Former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss was elected president of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), founded by his father S Ramadoss in 1989. The party is now an NDA ally. The debate over dynasty politics in Tamil Nadu revived in April after Durai Vaiko was elevated as headquarters secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), a DMK ally. His father G Vaiko famously rebelled against the former DMK chief, late M Karunanidhi, for favouring his sons and even broke away to float the MDMK. Stalin was not far behind as he inducted his son and first-time MLA Udhayanidhi Stalin into the cabinet on December 14 as minister for youth welfare and sports development. With this, the DMK’s succession plan is also in place as Stalin’s brother MK Alagiri is out of the picture since his expulsion and their half-sister and Rajya Sabha MP K Kanimozhi has been elevated as DMK’s deputy general secretary.

Coimbatore blast

A peaceful Sunday morning on the eve of Diwali was unsettled when what at first was thought to be a cylinder blast turned out to be a terrorist attack. Jameesha Mubin was charred to death after an LPG cylinder inside a vehicle he was driving exploded near a temple in Coimbatore’s communally sensitive Ukkadam on October 23. Investigating officers have claimed Mubin was the prime accused after it was found that he was in contact with Mohammad Azharuddin from Ukkadam, who is currently in jail for purported links with ISIS and the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019.

Coimbatore police have arrested five men associated with him and invoked the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in the case, which has since been transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The federal agency arrested three suspects earlier the month. In a statement, NIA has said that preliminary investigations revealed that Mubeen, after taking bayah (oath of allegiance) to ISIS, planned to carry out a suicide attack and cause extensive damage to symbols and monuments of a particular religious faith and with the intention to strike terror among the people.

Student suicides and riots

On July 13, a 16-year-old girl studying at a private school was found dead in her hostel in Kallakurichi. Her parents suspected foul play and blamed the school. The issue flared up into violence on July 17 with protesters indulging in arson and stone pelting, damaging school buses and classrooms. Nearly a dozen police officers were also injured in the incident. Later, police arrested three from the school management for abetting the girl’s suicide. Nearly 10 days after the suicide, her parents agreed to accept her body and her last rites were conducted with police security and telecast live.

In the meantime, her parents moved the Madras high court and the Supreme Court on their child’s death — two post-mortem examinations were conducted. The high court ordered that this case and all cases of suicides, deaths inside educational institutions to be transferred to the CB-CID. During this time, Tamil Nadu saw a spate of suicide involving school children. In some cases, the reasons are unknown while in some it has been related to exam pressure. Five student deaths were reported across the state in just a fortnight.

Rajiv Gandhi case convicts released

One of the longest legal battles and the world’s longest serving women prisoner found closure while wounds for those affected remain unhealed in the three-decade saga that ensued since the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and a dozen others on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur. In May, the Supreme Court released one of the seven convicts AG Perarivalan, paving the way for the remaining six, including four Sri Lankan nationals, to be released by the top court on November 11. All political parties gave them a rousing welcome, except the Congress and the BJP, who pointed out that the court had not declared them innocent. Those who were injured in the suicide bomb attack and those who lost their kin have protested against their release. The Union government on November 18 moved the Supreme Court to recall the order granting them remission.

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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