If the allegation that AIADMK deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran attempted to bribe the Election Commission (EC) officials is true, one can bluntly say that it was truly stupid on his part to act so audaciously. But, given the long and colourful biodata of Sukesh Chandrashekhar, the conman he allegedly hired to carry out the bribery, we see that the said audacity is mixed with foolhardiness as well. It’s also instructive to examine what the Delhi Police, who arrested Sukesh, had to say.
According to a report in The Indian Express, an officer privy to the probe revealed that Chandrashekhar had "struck a deal for Rs 50 crore for helping the AIADMK (Amma) faction to keep the ‘two leaves’ symbol."
Chandrashekhar had allegedly told Dinakaran that his contacts in the EC could help the Sasikala faction to get the AIADMK’s two leaves poll symbol, ahead of the RK Nagar Assembly seat byelection.
The report further said that, "Till now, he had got Rs 10 crore of the deal amount and the remaining was to be given to him in a time-bound manner. Yesterday, police recovered Rs 1.30 crore in cash and two luxury cars – a BMW and a Mercedes – from him… It has been found that he was getting money through a Chandni Chowk-based hawala operator. Police also has some phone conversations between the AIADMK leader and Chandrashekhar, sources said, adding that some part of the money was also paid in Kochi."
In an era of rapid and merciless crackdowns on all sorts of illicit financial activities – the most recent one being the nationwide raids against shell companies – it seems absurd that Dinakaran even attempted to embark on this misadventure. That too in a state like Tamil Nadu, where the political situation is already volatile – to put it mildly – with the BJP keeping a hawk-like eye for the possibility of making a grand inroad.
Needless to say, the bone of contention between the two factions is the original party symbol, now frozen by the EC. To detached observers, the symbol, although significant, is just what it is: symbolic. After the yawning leadership void that Jayalalithaa’s death left behind, there seems to be no AIADMK leader who can bolster the brand recall of that symbol in the minds of the voters.
Besides, it isn’t as if Dinakaran was wildly popular among the party cadre. And then there’s also his blunder in the RK Nagar bypolls, which the EC cancelled amid allegations of Dinakaran trying to bribe voters with cash.
And now, as an icing on the cake of sorts, in the misplaced haste to claim the party symbol in the manner that he did, Dinakaran has given O Panneerselvam the opening he needed to emerge as a strong candidate and consolidate his position in the party and the government. Indeed, Panneerselvam’s patience and caution seem to have borne fruit.
Firstpost had earlier argued how Panneerselvam could be regarded as a "silent underdog occupying the high office, defying both perception and prediction." What is currently unfolding seems to be his calculated and deft moves towards just that.
And, as another step in the direction, he has wasted no time in specifying his conditions for a possible merger between the two factions: a key condition inevitably, is to throw both Sasikala and Dinakaran out of the party.
It’s indeed interesting to trace the trajectory of events in the space of just a few months after, Panneerselvam lost to Sasikala in the 'first round'. He was simply no match for her financial muscle and the high-handed manner in which she hijacked all the MLAs and housed them in a resort. While it cost him his chief minister’s seat, it also earned Sasikala tremendous ire in the eyes of Tamil Nadu citizenry and elevated him to "some sort of star status."
And now, with Sasikala finding it tough to operate her faction from prison, notwithstanding her nephew Dinakaran, her supremacy is slipping away quickly. What will hasten this slide, perhaps irreversibly, will be Dinakaran’s actual arrest by the Delhi Police. In that event, the Sasikala camp will have an additional headache: Of extracting Dinakaran from this mess – or sacrificing him – and managing the fracas within the party.
How the entire saga will actually unfold remains to be seen, but Panneerselvam has clearly achieved the upper hand in light of his other demand, which is far more intrepid: He wants to replace Palaniswamy as the chief minister, while demoting him to deputy chief minister.
This not only reveals the extent to which the Sasikala camp’s negotiating power has eroded but also shows that Panneerselvam's political shrewdness is surfacing, even as he deals one card after the other. The deeper significance of this demand can also be gleaned from the studied silence of education minister KA Sengottaiyan "on the future of the Sasikala family."
Indeed, if Panneerselvam and Palaniswamy do come together – no matter what berths they occupy – it will mean that the Sasikala camp’s dominance will end sooner than later.
In terms of real politik, because Palaniswamy will certainly not want to relinquish his chief ministership, he might grudgingly give a bounty to Panneerselvam, loyalty to Sasikala be damned.
Where that will leave the other Sasikala loyalists is anybody’s guess. Or, stating the obvious, power is the only glue that binds political loyalty in a game where the scales of leader and follower can tilt overnight.
Then there’s the other factor, of the absence of a Jayalalithaa-like leader, which is what generated this crisis in the first place. So, no matter how bitter the factionalism, neither camp would want to risk a premature election and lose even the semblance of power they now have. This factor might also compel Sasikala loyalists to stick to Panneerselvam, if he succeeds in replacing Palaniswamy as the chief minister.
Whether Sasikala will have the last laugh or not is besides the point. The significant theme that continues to emerge from the post-Jayalalithaa saga is the fact that Sasikala still doesn’t seem to have realised that she derived from and owed her power solely to Jayalalithaa, and not the people of Tamil Nadu. Given the record of Indian politics, and specifically that of Tamil Nadu, is it mere coincidence how swiftly she landed in jail, barely weeks after Jayalalithaa’s death?
Updated Date: Apr 18, 2017 17:25 PM