'Anna' in AIADMK replaced by 'Amma': Sasikala and Palaniswami are the new order, but will they stay?

Forty five years after M G Ramachandran converted his fan clubs into a political party, the DNA of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has changed. With the demise of Jayalalithaa, the Kollywoodish blood is no longer flowing in its veins. And now that the Mannargudi clan of VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran has taken over the party, the AIDMK is mocked at by being expanded to 'Annan Dinakaran Mannargudi Kazhagam'.

When tall leaders move out, political parties usually see a generational shift. That is not the case with the AIADMK, post 5 December. The new leadership of Sasikala and chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami is also in its 60s, like Jayalalithaa was. The philosophy of the party which during the times of MGR used to be 'Annaism' now is 'Amma-ism'. It essentially means continuing the freebie-loaded welfare agenda that Jayalalithaa perfected as an electoral strategy.

Much is made out of the fact that while MGR groomed Jayalalithaa as her political successor, Jayalalithaa did nothing of the sort with Sasikala. This belief is rooted on twin misconceptions.


A file photo of former AIADMK general secretary at the memorial of Amma in Chennai. PTI

MGR, indeed, appointed Jayalalithaa as the party propaganda secretary and even sent her to the Rajya Sabha. But caught between his wife Janaki and Jayalalithaa, MGR never announced that it will be Jayalalithaa after him. In fact, he struggled to buy peace with the senior leaders like RM Veerappan and VR Nedunchezhiyan who resented her rise and crowd-pulling abilities. Reports from the mid-80s suggest that Jayalalithaa used her clout with Rajiv Gandhi to try to become chief minister, when MGR was not keeping well. MGR was also upset with the formation of a parallel outfit called the Jayalalithaa Peravai (conference) in 1986, which he suspected was done with her knowledge and blessings. He stripped Jayalalithaa of the post of propaganda secretary soon after.

Jayalalithaa's rise to become the AIADMK supremo therefore, was more due to her grit and determination than any benevolence shown by party leaders. She had to fight her way into the party because the others did not think she deserved the top post.

Sasikala it would seem, had learnt from the Jaya experience, having seen it at close quarters. Senior AIADMK functionaries admit that after her return to Poes Garden after tendering an apology in March 2012, Sasikala pretty much called the shots both in the party and to an extent, the government. She had a say in decision-making and also in who was selected as a candidate in every election the party fought.

A file photo of Jayalalithaa and her aide Sasikala. Reuters

A file photo of Jayalalithaa and her aide Sasikala. Reuters

So, to label Sasikala an outsider would be to misunderstand the arrangement that existed between her and Jayalalithaa, behind the high walls of Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden. During the last couple of years in particular, Jayalalithaa who clearly was not in the pink of health, was depending largely on Sasikala and a trusted team of bureaucrats to run the state. The manner in which Sasikala ensured Panneerselvam's revolt came to nought, displayed shades of the Jayalalithaa school of realpolitik. Ruthless and no-holds barred.

Just like Sasikala is insulted by her detractors as a maidservant punching above her weight, Jaya also was dismissed by labeling her MGR's mistress. The AIADMK headed by Janaki made the mistake of underestimating her fighting abilities. Tamil Nadu, too, has had to eat humble pie with the Mannargudi guile emerging triumphant.

With key party leaders moving to the Panneerselvam camp, the AIADMK for all practical purposes is split. With the initial battle that involved expelling each other over, the next phase of the tussle will most likely take place before the Election Commission with both sides staking claim to the party symbol. But before that, the EC ruling on Sasikala's election as general secretary which will also have an impact on Dinakaran's post, could dramatically upset the ruling AIADMK's applecart.

The AIADMK split after MGR's death, similar to the divide witnessed in the last two weeks. But will Panneerselvam be a Jayalalithaa? His hope is to ride on the anger against Sasikala-Dinakaran duo occupying positions of power and Poes Garden. But with Palaniswami talking about taking forward Amma's legacy, that may well act as magnet to woo the Panneerselvam camp rebels back into the AIADMK fold. Off the record, some of the rebel leaders are appreciative of Palaniswami's first day in office.

Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi Palaniswami. PTI

Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi Palaniswami. PTI

The problem will however arise because of the aunt and nephew. Sasikala wanted to take over the chief minister's chair arguing that dual positions of power is against the AIADMK grain. Does it mean that Dinakaran whose attempt to become minister on 16 February was scuttled by Governor Vidyasagar Rao, could aim to be the chief minister? Given that Sasikala has not shied away from going against popular sentiment, it cannot be ruled out. Especially if they perceive that Palaniswami is getting too big for his boots. Should the family do that, it will expose the faultlines within the AIADMK all over again.

An attempt was also made by Sasikala's supporters before her conviction to project her as the first woman chief minister of "pure Tamil origin". The jibe was directed at both Janaki and Jayalalithaa, who had geographical footprints in Kerala and Karnataka respectively. Sasikala's tragic flaw is that she is a woman in a hurry. So far, in keeping with the tradition that the dead are not criticised, the narrative of Jayalalithaa as the "benevolent Amma" and Sasikala as the "evil Chinnamma" has clicked. But no one can take away from the fine print of the Supreme court order which did not spare criticism of Jayalalithaa's corruption, calling her the mastermind.

In an ironical manner, Jayalalithaa's death has saved the AIADMK. If she were alive and both she and Sasikala had been pushed inside prison for four years and debarred from contesting for a decade, Tamil Nadu would have been handed over to MK Stalin on a platter. In her death, Jaya has just about managed to keep her party's hopes alive.

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 12:26:12 IST

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