At the end of 12 days of political crisis, we finally have a result in Tamil Nadu. The team from Mannargudi defeated the Rest of Tamil Nadu by 124 MLAs, with fifteen balls (days) to spare, in which to prove its majority on the floor of the House.
It is rare for a politician not to sense which way the wind is blowing. They keep their ear to the ground even when they are ensconced inside a luxury resort, dipping into the swimming pool. But the men and women from the AIADMK, the people of Tamil Nadu elected last May, chose 'Chinnamma' (VK Sasikala) over 'makkal' (people).
Kyunki MLA ko power pasand hai. (Because the MLA likes power.)
Convict number 9234 has won the battle but will she win the war is the question. But Sasikala at this point in time, it would seem, could not care less about public perception. What matters to her is the fact that she has to control the party and the government.
One of Sasikala's last decisions before she drove to Bengaluru was to appoint nephew TTV Dinakaran as the deputy general secretary of the party. It essentially means that in Sasikala's absence, he calls the shots. Her critics see this appointment as a shameless expression of Mannargudi family power and her refusal to keep her word. In March 2012, she was taken back by Jayalalithaa into Veda Nilayam only after she promised her that she will have no truck with her family members, all of them had been expelled from the AIADMK by the late party supremo.
While the jury is out on whether Sasikala, whose own election as the general secretary is under the radar, can anoint a deputy, it is also a reflection of the trust deficit she has vis-a-vis Palaniswami who is a political heavyweight from western Tamil Nadu. She realises she can trust only her own family to keep a check on Palaniswami should he emerge as his own man.
The manner in which she chose Palaniswami and not a more senior Sengottaiyan, also tells its own story. Palaniswami is deemed to be more submissive and has had a better working relationship with Sasikala even when Jayalalithaa was alive.
Though there was speculation that Dinakaran may be inducted into the ministry as deputy chief minister, it did not happen. Perhaps the Sasikala camp wants to get over the challenge of the floor test before making the move. But even without a presence in the government, Dinakaran is by Palaniswami's side just about everywhere. The optics make it obvious that the new chief minister is connected to the Mannargudi WiFi network.
Will the AIADMK survive the next four years and stay in power? It looks extremely difficult because there are too many factors that are not in its control.
One, It has a razor thin majority now. Any conflict and Palaniswami will have to ensure that he keeps the entire flock happy. Apart from cabinet berths, he will have to ensure the MLAs are rewarded with plum posts of chairmen of corporations.
But if an uprising of the kind one saw at the Marina happens, it will expose the faultlines within the ruling party. Because even if half a dozen MLAs rally against the government, it will bring Palaniswami within kissing distance of losing power. Such a government will always be prone to blackmail and threats. The CM will always have to lean on Dinakaran to keep unhappy lawmakers in check.
Two, an antagonistic relationship with the Centre. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has gone on record to say two central ministers were showing an undue interest in Tamil Nadu affairs. It is an open secret that the BJP was not too pleased with the idea of Palaniswami taking over as CM and preferred Panneerselvam. But with the Sasikala camp closing ranks, the outside elements had to eat humble pie. Political revenge would be a matter of time.
Three, Palaniswami is from the powerful Gounder community that traditionally does not see eye to eye with the Thevars, the caste to which Sasikala and Dinakaran belong. The AIADMK despite being led by a Brahmin chief minister in Jayalalithaa was always known as a Thevar-dominated party and how the community MLAs react to the leadership of a Gounder will be its acid test. The future of the AIADMK will to a large extent depend on the equation between Thevar Dinakaran and Gounder Palaniswami.
Four, who holds the remote control? The perception that Palaniswami will make a trip to Bengaluru central prison before taking important decisions will undermine the government. He is seen as Sasikala's proxy with the shadow of Mannargudi over his government looming large.
Five, there is already talk of a youth movement demanding President's rule in Tamil Nadu. Should that happen and Palaniswami is forced to crush it using brute police force, it will further alienate him from the people. The chief minister needs to realise that the anger is not against him, but against Sasikala. The more it seems that Dinakaran is doing backseat driving, the more Palaniswami's mileage will fall.
Not that the AIADMK seems to understand this. Its Rajya Sabha MP Navneethakrishnan says Sasikala as party chief will "advise'' the government. That is perhaps because the interpretation of the result is different in the Sasikala camp.
Team Sasikala believes they are in fact, the real Chennai Super Kings who defeated Delhi Daredevils in the Tamil Nadu political league. How despite alleged attempts by forces outside Tamil Nadu to queer the pitch for Sasikala and company, she survived Panneerselvam's mutiny of 2017.