Chennai: Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa reshuffling her cabinet every now and then is fairly routine. She has done it in her previous tenures and in the last 14 months, has done it six times.
Often ministers are dropped, some are elevated, some are re-inducted and dropped again, while some are completely forgotten. Except speculations and circumstantial evidence nobody really ever knows the reasons. Sometimes, it is about efficiency; sometimes loyalty; and at other times it is something else.
Therefore, yesterday’s firing of revenue minister KA Sengottaiyan, the third most senior member in her cabinet comes as no surprise except for the fact that she wielded the axe immediately on her return from a summer-term at her Kodanandu estate in Ooty. Interestingly, most of the English media didn’t even attempt to speculate the reasons, except for one which said that Jayalalithaa was particular about “purity in public life”.
The senior leader was not only dropped from the cabinet, but also relieved of an important party headquarters secretary post indicating that for the time being, she wants him out of sight.
There have been visible signs that the AIADMK supremo was not entirely happy with Sengottaiyan right from the beginning of her present tenure. A reasonable bigwig in the previous ministries, he was first given the agriculture portfolio, not big enough for his stature, and then dumped into a relatively less significant IT, usually handled by juniors.
When Sengottaiyan didn’t get a more politically significant portfolio in Jaya’s first cabinet this season, it was clear that something was amiss. That he has fallen from grace. He was less visible too. Probably, he was on a watchlist. Down, but not out.
The suspicions were confirmed when he was demoted. Some say it was a period of probation for him. If he mended his ways, he could come back. And he did. This time, to his worthwhile glory as the revenue minister. After the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister, he was the third most important member in the cabinet. Many thought, he is back from political wilderness.
Then comes the axe.
The only reason that one can deduce using available information is an incident in February in which his personal assistant (political) and driver were arrested by the police for trespassing into a woman’s house in Chennai at night. They were charged with trespassing and criminal intimidation. Reportedly the woman was the personal assistant’s landlord and had asked him to vacate the house for not paying rent and the assistant threatened her using his minister’s influence.
Given the influence and seniority of Sengottaiyan in the party, the arrest and subsequent remand of his personal staff was viewed as a sign of the minister losing grip or being vulnerable. Local media also reported that there were reasons for the personal assistant’s audacity, which the minister was unable to check.
A lot of the shuffles Jayalalithaa effected this time had to do with loyalty and efficiency. With the suspected infiltration of proxies of the Sashikala clan earlier and the inexperience of new ministers, Jayalalithaa constantly changed them and kept them insecure. Interestingly, some of the replacements in her cabinet also faced the axe.
Sengottaiyan was not a small fry, but an old loyalist. He was one of the few veteran leaders, along with S. Thirunavukkarasar and KKSSR Ramachandran who stood by Jayalalithaa during her tumultuous initial years when she created her own faction of the AIADMK after the death of MG Ramachandran, former chief minister and her mentor.
KKSSR, left the party and got back before joining the rival DMK with whom he won two elections. Thirunavukkarasar had left the AIADMK and joined BJP and ended up in Congress. There were others too who fell from prominence and could never get back.
This may not be the end of the road for Sengottaiyan in the AIADMK. Perhaps he is on stricter conditions of probation and could very well come back sooner than later. At least that is how the history of AIADMK goes.