S Kamaraj, a former AIADMK MLA from Krishnarayapuram in Karur district of Tamil Nadu thought my question was inappropriate, given the sombre moment. He was awaiting his turn to get his head tonsured at the spot where Jayalalithaa was laid to rest.
I had asked him about the future of the AIADMK after Jayalalithaa and whether Chinnamma (mother's younger sister), as Sasikala is referred to within the party, will step into Amma's shoes as the party supremo. "The future will be bright. We believe Amma would have told Chinnamma what to do. Don't ask me anything about the leadership of the party," Kamaraj said.
Belief in this case translates into blind faith and a world of make believe. That all will be well. It is difficult to believe that Jaya would have told Sasikala anything about the future of the AIADMK because till she suffered the cardiac arrest at 5 pm on 4 December, the chief minister was all set to return home. There is nothing to suggest that Jaya was preparing for the inevitable. She was joking with nurses at Apollo Hospitals and inviting them home for coffee.
MA Peer Mohammed, district secretary of the AIADMK in Dindigul, another one with a shaven pate, was following the Hindu tradition of tonsuring when a parent passes away. This 'son' of Amma was categorical any decision on the next leader of the party will be taken in Amma's name.
"She protected us when she was alive. She will protect us when she is no more too," he said.
If fear and apprehension defined the AIADMK when Jaya was around, it hasn't quite changed after she has passed away. Everyone is in a wait-and-watch mode, looking at how things unfold.
"Just wait for seven days of mourning to get over. AIADMK will self-destruct," said Muniswamy, a Chennai resident who had come to the MGR Memorial on Wednesday. He said the presence of the entire Sasikala clan, especially M Natarajan by Jayalalithaa's body, is a bright red warning sign. Jayalalithaa had forbidden everyone in the AIADMK from having any truck with Natarajan, a man she despised. He is seen as a Tamilian Amar Singh and was persona non grata for Jaya. It was therefore surprising how none of Jaya's sycophantic followers raised a stink at his presence.
The optics tell the story. While everyone agrees Sasikala was Amma's chosen one as a companion, her family was anathema to her. The public spectacle at Rajaji Hall was designed to convey that the Mannargudi (a small town in Tiruvarur district where Sasikala hails from) parivaar is in charge. Mannargudi is over 350 kilometres from Chennai.
So far, MGR and Jayalalithaa were the sole leaders of the AIADMK. With Jaya's passing away, the era of a "military force unit under one commander" has come to an end. It is almost certain that O Panneerselvam will not be the general secretary as well. The chances of Sasikala being elected as the next general secretary are deemed very high. That will mean the power will move from the party to a family. How the AIADMK structure reacts to that will be critical to its future.
The other important question is whether Amma would have wanted Sasikala to step up? There were absolutely no indications to that effect. She was neither given any position within the party or the government or made an MP or MLA. If she had been, it would have been a pointer to the succession within the AIADMK. The power that she wielded was behind the boundary walls of Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden, Jayalalithaa's residence.
This is unlike MGR, who groomed Jayalalithaa, first by appointing her propaganda secretary of the party in 1982 and then sending her to the Rajya Sabha. It is extremely naive of the AIADMK's second and third rung leadership to believe that Amma would have told Chinnamma what to do.
But then Sasikala controlled the gates to Jayalalithaa. She had her say in the choice of candidates and is is assumed that it is now payback time and the MLAs and district secretaries would back her. Sasikala was also the person many of them stayed in touch with, which meant an extra-constitutional authority within the party ruled the roost in Jayalalithaa's name. She can possibly do it officially now, in the name of the late Jayalalithaa.
But the Disproportionate Assets case verdict hangs over her head like a Damocles sword. While the conservative view is that it would stop her from becoming the AIADMK general secretary, my sense is that controlling the party and by extension, the government, will be Sasikala's ticket to the corridors of power in Chennai and New Delhi. Her arrangement with Panneerselvam would loosely be like that between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.
The power soap opera within the AIADMK is only going to get more rivetting.
Keep watching this space.
Updated Date: Dec 09, 2016 12:22:57 IST