With Sasikala gone and OPS set to rise, the AIADMK will now be a party with altered character

From the verge of being the Chief Minister of the second biggest economy in India to a jail for four years — Sasikala’s conviction and sentencing by the Supreme Court this morning could not have been more dramatic.

Whether she had feared such an outcome or not, practically it is the end of the road for her political career.

Four years in jail and six years of debarment from contesting elections afterwards means no more possibility to assume an office of authority for the next tens years. And ten years is too long a period. The fact that the jail will be in Karnataka and there is no government to back her are indeed bad news for her.

File image of O Panneerselvam. PTI

File image of O Panneerselvam. PTI

Equally devastated will be her family — often called the “Mannargudi family” and despised by a lot of people — because they will find it tough without political or government patronage. Her loss of power could mean a floodgate of criminal cases and public anger against them too.

While Sasikala goes down in history as the first politician to be jailed by the Supreme Court in Tamil Nadu for corruption, the humble O Panneerselvam will rise as the new star of Dravidian politics. His popularity, that has been rising since his late night revolt against Sasikala at Marina a week ago, will skyrocket now. No proxy that Sasikala will leave behind to take care of her interests can match OPS’s image.

By the end of Tuesday, he will achieve a cult status. The fastest rise to political stardom in India, after perhaps Arvind Kejriwal. In fact, he rose faster than Kejriwal, who took nearly two years.

It’s now only a matter of time before more MLAs switch sides and OPS takes over the control of AIADMK. So far, the comparison of his revolt had been to the split in the AIADMK after its founder and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) died in 1987, in which Jayalalithaa trumped MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran. Like in the case of OPS, it was a horizontal split in which most of the leaders were with Janaki while the rank and file were with Jaya. In less than a year, Jaya pushed Janaki into insignificance and went on to dominate the state politics till she died three months ago.

OPS’s chances looked bright because of the comparison, but unlike Janaki, Sasikala was a tough nut to crack. Her close association with Jaya had made her a seasoned politician even at debut and she was looking menacing with a lot of tricks under her sleeve even as OPS was patient and optimistic. And the tipping point, unlike in the past, came from the Supreme Court (SC). This time, it was more lethal and conclusive. While it took Jaya a historically violent floor test and two elections to establish herself, for OPS, the SC verdict made it absolutely peaceful and irreversible at least for a few years.

OPS has anyway been riding the popularity wave and his rise to the top is good for politics in the state because he is probably the man who will infuse some semblance of democracy into the way the game is played in Tamil Nadu. So far, he has been free of family interests and if he can rebuild the party’s character by allowing freedom of expression and rewarding merit, it will augur well not only for the AIADMK, but for the general political climate too. So far, he appeared to have been democratic and self-effacing. And he has been like this for the last two decades.

The only thing he ought to watch out for now is the possibility of new power centres around him. It’s inevitable, but that a lot of people risked their future and migrated to his side indeed shows some character of the people with him. It certainly takes courage in a regime dominated by the threats and opportunism. He has to now go in for a South African style reconciliation so that people are not restricted by their past.

Other than OPS, the man who will be hailed equally high, will be Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, who chose to wait and not to be browbeaten by Sasikala’s pressure tactics. The odds had been stacked against OPS, not only because the MLAs had been reportedly detained by the Sasikala camp disallowing them to express their free will, but also because the state police and administration were not willing to side with him because of the possible aftermath if Sasikala became the Chief Minister. It did cost him considerably, and his counter move happened quite late when he finally changed the police intelligence chief on Monday. Had it happened earlier, the MLAs would have been freer. Anyway, with a single stroke, the judgement has set everything in his favour.

Other than the OPS’ faction, the party that has gained big time is the BJP. It was the BJP’s calculated intervention that has created OPS. Although nobody admits it publicly, it’s the Centre’s support that made him change his mind after his resignation and push forward with a risky alternative plan. The Governor’s resolute stand also helped him in defeating Sasikala’s premature attempt at usurping power.

The verdict also has saved the Congress high command that was in two minds whether to support OPS or not. In 1996, they made a blunder by supporting Jaya when the entire state faction opposed it, seceded and became a new party. The situation was so similar, the public sentiment was decisively in favour of OPS and any move against it would have been unpopular.

Ultimately, what an exciting story it has been. Rarely does politics get this dramatic and sensational.


Published Date: Feb 14, 2017 12:30 pm | Updated Date: Feb 14, 2017 12:30 pm