Every time the AIADMK is in a spot of bother, Jayalalithaa tunes in to FM. In this case, FM is her Finance Minister, O Panneerselvam (referred to as OPS in Tamil Nadu), someone who is at the same frequency and wavelength as his leader. He knows her mind and more importantly, he's the laxman rekha. Over the years, OPS has converted the act of prostrating before Jayalalithaa into a fine political craft. It is this virtue and the loyalty gene that has yielded dividends and made him chief minister, even if it was of the night watchman variety, twice — in 2001 and in 2014.
This time, all the CM's portfolios like home and general administration have been allocated to OPS. A Raj Bhawan communique on Tuesday added that OPS will preside over cabinet meetings, which means he will 'act' like a CM, but won't be one technically. Not that OPS behaved like one when he was one. He will go down in history as the only CM who cried during his swearing-in ceremony in September 2014 and exclaimed he was a relieved man when an acquitted Jayalalithaa took the crown back from him in May 2015.
But OPS being given the ad hoc mantle once again has raised eyebrows. The question on everyone's mind is: Who took the decision?
Raj Bhawan categorically says, "This arrangement has been made as per the advice of Hon'ble Chief Minister."
Does this mean that Jayalalithaa is conscious and communicating with people inside the Critical Care Unit at Apollo Hospitals, giving instructions on a crucial issue like this? If so, that is great news as it means that the CM is well on the road to recovery. Why isn't this figuring in the medical bulletins put out by the hospital?
That is perhaps because, according to the hospital, Jayalalithaa is still on respiratory support, which almost rules out any likelihood of her being in a position to take decisions of this nature. She is also undergoing passive physiotherapy, again an indication of her not being conscious.
Last week when OPS and PWD minister EK Palaniswamy met Governor Vidyasagar Rao, they were quizzed about the general administration of the affairs of the state. Though the details did not come out in the public domain, reliable sources say how the Tamil Nadu government was managing in the CM's absence, was discussed in detail.
Highly-placed sources have revealed that Governor Rao, worried at the sense of drift in the administration and demand made by Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy to impose President's rule for six months, used his discretionary powers to hand over Jayalalithaa's portfolios to OPS. Past precedent also played a part in the decision. The Governor was advised that the Constitution is silent on who takes the call when the CM is not in a position to communicate, and so he reportedly consulted senior ministers and bureaucrats before taking this decision. It was however ensured that the official press release had the constitutionally correct position that the Governor took the decision on the advice of the CM.
What will this mean for the inner dynamics in the AIADMK? The grapevine for several months has suggested that Jayalalithaa's trusted aide Sasikala Natarajan and OPS, who hail from the same Thevar community, do not get along too well.
How Sasikala, considered the second most powerful person in the AIADMK, will react to this decision, will be watched with much interest.
The politics of Tamil Nadu has also turned murky, starting with the visit of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to Apollo Hospital last week. It was seen as an attempt to reach out to one section of the AIADMK, leaving the DMK extremely miffed.
Does this mean that Jayalalithaa is conscious and communicating with people inside the Critical Care Unit at Apollo Hospitals, giving instructions on a crucial issue like this?
BJP president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley are in Chennai on Wednesday. Venkaiah Naidu had dropped in over the weekend. Though the agenda is to enquire about Jayalalithaa's health, clearly the BJP senior leadership wants to get a sense of the situation on the ground during their conversations with the doctors, the Apollo management, the AIADMK leadership and the BJP Tamil Nadu unit. Both the Congress and the BJP are fringe players in the state's politics, the BJP worse off than the Congress that has eight MLAs.
But the BJP, thanks to being in power in New Delhi and a friendly equation between Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa, will want to have a say in which way Tamil Nadu heads. While OPS being authorised to chair cabinet meetings will give some semblance of administrative normalcy, politically, Tamil Nadu is only hotting up.
Expelled AIADMK MP Sasikala Pushpa is generating much of the political heat by asking for a CBI probe into the circumstances in which Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. Her ire is directed at her namesake in the party. She has even written to the Governor asking him to verify any letter deemed to be signed by Jayalalithaa, for forgery. Given the wheels within wheels nature of Tamil Nadu politics, one can never be sure who is firing on whose behalf. But the attempt — it is obvious — is to push Sasikala Natarajan on to the back foot and to loosen her hold over the AIADMK.
But those within the AIADMK, who look at every political move celestially, point out that every time OPS has stood in for Jayalalithaa, she has come back stronger. They expect OPS to be third time lucky for 'Amma'.