Are Income Tax raids part of strategy to capitalise on political vacuum in Tamil Nadu?

The wheels within wheels battle at the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has a David-versus-Goliath sub-text to it. Sources say there has been a drastic change in the demeanour of Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam since his return from New Delhi on Tuesday. To the legislators who met him, he is believed to have described himself as "appointed by Amma".

This 'Amma' certification of loyalty is Panneerselvam's ISI mark-like trump card. It's the only way he can fight off the chorus that is building up in the AIADMK legislature party to elect Jayalalithaa's close confidante VK Sasikala as its leader. "They (Sasikala camp) can take care of the party, but I will run the government for the next four-and-a-half years," Panneerselvam is believed to have said.

 Are Income Tax raids part of strategy to capitalise on political vacuum in Tamil Nadu?

Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam. PTI

Given his reputation as a man of few words and a penchant of falling in line, this tone and tenor has given rise to suspicion that Panneerselvam now has a scriptwriter and director.

But Panneerselvam is an isolated man in the AIADMK legislature party. He commands the support of only one MLA: O Panneerselvam. His own ministers are openly batting for Sasikala to take over, not just as party chief but also as chief minister.

However, it is important to note that while all AIADMK legislators and powerful district secretaries are backing Sasikala, the entire cadre is not on the same page. Right from the time Jayalalithaa passed away and Sasikala's family moved to centrestage, many foot soldiers have been grumbling about the family's growing clout. Panneerselvam, who has risen from being a tea stall owner to chief minister, has his ears to the ground, and is not deaf to these murmurs of discontent.

The visual evidence of what is being interpreted as angst among the cadre is seen in rural and semi-urban Tamil Nadu. At many places, where posters of Jayalalithaa and Sasikala together have been pasted by followers, the latter's face has been defaced. While it is quite possible that mischief makers may have a hand in this, visuals of such disfigured posters are not fitting into the narrative of Sasikala as Jayalalithaa's chosen successor and the rank and file's sole choice, which was the narrative that her camp wanted to put out.

Before the General Council meets in the last week of December, the aim is to get many AIADMK councils at the ward and panchayat levels to propose that Sasikala take over. The mood in these meetings will give the leadership an idea of what it is up against.

And it's not like Sasikala is unaware of the political potholes. Unlike Jayalalithaa, who to a large extent, only depended on the police intelligence network for feedback from the ground, Sasikala has a second channel to tap voices on the ground. This is her family network which understands the political dynamics of the party and knows how to tackle resistance.

The BJP is looking closely at the fast-moving political developments within the AIADMK. The national party has no presence to speak of in Tamil Nadu, but has a vested interest in ensuring the AIADMK government stays. If the AIADMK government collapses, and the DMK comes to power, BJP will have no elbow room with Karunanidhi and Co. But the saffron party is also apprehensive of Sasikala; sources say that if she takes control of both the AIADMK party and the Tamil Nadu government, the BJP will again not be able to do much. It would therefore prefer Panneerselvam continuing in the CM's chair.

Local leaders, like national secretary H Raja, have already made pro-Panneerselvam statements. All of this gives unleashing the Income Tax Department and the CBI on Tamil Nadu in the last 24 hours a strong political subtext. Chief secretary Rama Mohana Rao was known as the "super CM" ever since Jayalalithaa was hospitalised in September, and enjoys enormous clout at Poes Garden. It is beyond doubt that the nod to raid the senior-most bureaucrat in the state would have come from the top in New Delhi. Subsequent raids in Salem on a person close to a pro-Sasikala minister are also seen as part of a plan to keep up the pressure.

But it's not as if these raids are only politically motivated. Raids on influential Public Works Department contractor Shekhar Reddy, who was even nominated by the Tamil Nadu government to the post of a member on the cash-rich Tirumula Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) board, that controls the Lord Balaji shrine, yielded a cash haul of Rs 170 crore and 127 kg of gold. Reddy was arrested by the CBI on Wednesday, and IT sleuths are busy connecting the dots from the politically well-connected contractor to unearth skeletons from the cupboard.

It is certain that Ramamohana Rao, who superseded 17 senior IAS officers to become chief secretary in June this year, will be replaced. On Wednesday, the chief secretary's chamber was being raided at the Tamil Nadu secretariat, even as Panneerselvam was at work in his office, less than 200 metres away. Nothing can be a bigger embarrassment than the optics of the presence of IT teams, with CRPF personnel to provide security, in the seat of power in Tamil Nadu.

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Updated Date: Dec 22, 2016 20:03:45 IST