The gloves are off.
The BJP government at the Centre has decided to make it difficult for VK Sasikala to become chief minister. Governor Vidyasagar Rao who ideally should have flown in to Chennai on Monday evening to facilitate a Tuesday morning swearing-in of the new chief minister, decided to fly back to Mumbai from New Delhi where he had to gone to attend the wedding reception for Union Minister Prakash Javadekar's son.
But significantly, Rao had an hour-long one-on-one meeting with Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi in the evening. Sources in the BJP say Rao will abide by the instructions given by the home ministry. What has gone so terribly wrong? The BJP is very upset with the decision to elect Sasikala as the new leader of the AIADMK legislature party. BJP leaders say their preference for O Panneerselvam as chief minister was conveyed to the AIADMK leadership on more than one occasion and also that Sasikala, with the sword of the disproportionate assets case verdict hanging on her head, won't be a suitable choice. The AIADMK upset at the BJP cultivating Panneerselvam, in its wisdom, decided to rashly take on the saffron camp.
The AIADMK calculation apparently, was based on four factors.
One, the BJP's attempt to do backseat driving through Panneerselvam was not acceptable.
Two, it calculated that the BJP needs AIADMK more than the other way round — for support in the Rajya Sabha and for support for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates in mid-2017.
Three, the political thinking was that Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections will set the BJP back, ensuring it cannot try any gimmicks elsewhere.
Four, the AIADMK believes that kowtowing to the BJP would not be what Jayalalithaa would have done, if she was in a similar position.
But the BJP at this point in time is not sure how far it wants to take it. Legally speaking, it admits it is not on a strong wicket to deny Sasikala the top job, given that the legislators have elected her as the leader. The governor, even if he was to use his discretion, ought to have very good reasons to deny her the opportunity to be chief minister. The BJP does not want to come across looking like a spoiler and create sympathy for Sasikala. Its leaders are wary that the AIADMK could make it into a Centre versus wtate issue and accuse the BJP of misusing the officer of the governor.
But at the same time, the BJP with its ears to the ground and cyberspace, realises there is a huge anti-Sasikala sentiment to be tapped into. While the constitutional purists will not appreciate the governor overstepping the line, public opinion may just work in the BJP's favour. Given that its apparent lack of enthusiasm over bringing in a Jallikattu ordinance at the Central-level had worked against it in Tamil Nadu, the Sasikala episode gives it an opportunity to claw itself back into some sort of public acceptability.
It is a dangerous ploy trying to ride on Twitter hashtags. But the BJP believes that social media, at least in this case, also reflects the broader mood of the people who feel Sasikala is not the right person to lead Tamil Nadu. They also realise that 135 MLAs, 50 MPs and 50-odd district and organising secretaries does not comprise the entire AIADMK. The cadre, they say is speaking through social media, and the BJP's gamble to put a spanner in the works, is being done with an eye to endear itself to that disgruntled section of the party apparatus on the ground.
What is also interesting is the visible lack of enthusiasm on the ground. AIADMK events in the past during Jaya's time would be loud and boisterous affairs with leaders going out of their way to mobilise crowds to greet Amma. This time, despite instructions going out from Poes Garden, the crowds just did not match up in terms of numbers or energy. Perhaps if the Supreme Court had not announced that it will deliver the verdict in the DA case next week, Rao may have sworn Sasikala in as chief minister. After all, even Jayalalithaa took the oath of office in May 2016, despite being accused number one in the same case. But the timing of the verdict has led most to ask if Sasikala cannot just wait for a week.
The BJP is pushing through back channels that Panneerselvam continue as caretaker chief minister till next week. Sasikala is being told that if she is convicted, the state could plunge into political turmoil and so it is better to wait for the court judgment.
Tamil Nadu is reacting more to the perception about Sasikala. The impression that has gained ground over the years that she is not squeaky clean, has court cases against her and lacks administrative acumen. Add to that the post-5 December presence of the family, some of whom were banished from Poes Garden by Jayalalithaa in 2011 and have also been embroiled in corruption cases.
The manner in which Sasikala muscled her way into the chair also reeked of naked ambition. Just two months ago, the legislators had reposed full faith in Panneerselvam but decided to dump him on Sunday, without any rhyme or reason. It made a joke of the confidence reposed in Panneerselvam and reduced the legislature party to a toothless, voiceless body operated by remote control from Poes Garden. By snubbing Panneerselvam and slighting him in public, Sasikala is seen as having brought down the dignity of the office of chief minister.
For now, Poes Garden is waiting for 'Telangana bidda' Rao's next move. It finally will come down to who will blink first? Chennai or New Delhi. One thing is for sure. If the swearing-in ceremony does not take place on Tuesday at 11 am or at 430 pm — the two timings fixed tentatively, swearing of the ugly kind will happen.
Published Date: Feb 07, 2017 08:20 AM | Updated Date: Feb 07, 2017 08:20 AM