Panneerselvam-Sasikala explosion and the chain reaction: Does MK Stalin have to do anything at all?
Although the visible backers of the overnight transformation of OPS are the Centre, Sasikala has trained her guns on the DMK and Stalin.
A critical question that many haven’t asked in the midst of the political drama unfolding in Tamil Nadu is the role, position and possibilities of DMK leader MK Stalin. Was he in anyway instrumental in O Paneerselvam turning a rebel-hero and thwarting Sasikala’s chances as the latter alleges? Does he have any fringe benefits?
Although the visible backers of the overnight transformation of OPS are the Centre and the BJP, mainly because of an evasive Governor Vidyasagar Rao who appeared to have given enough time to OPS to consolidate himself, Sasikala has trained her guns on the DMK and Stalin. According to her, the DMK is behind OPS and that it has been evident for a long time. She refused to even faintly hint at the BJP manipulating the situation. All that she would say was that the Governor wasn’t responding to her repeated messages.
Not that Sasikala is unaware of the BJP and the Centre, obviously through the Governor, throwing their weight behind OPS, but she wanted to hedge her future and exploit the situation to make OPS a renegade. By accusing him of colluding with the DMK, she is trying to evoke the mandatorily rancorous relationship between the Dravidian siblings. Her evidence of a truck between OPS and the DMK is the cordial relationship the former had with Stalin and another DMK leader Duraimurugan in the assembly and the smiles they exchanged.
Stalin can indeed be an incidental beneficiary if things go out of Sasikala’s hand. At present she claims to have obtained the support of 131 MLAs, but this number will certainly deplete as a few more switch their loyalty to OPS. If OPS gets about 14-15 MLAs, Sasikala will lose her plot. Of course, OPS and his supporting MLAs will naturally get disqualified because they would have defied the AIADMK’s official whip by voting against her or abstaining. In such a situation, if the Governor permits, Stalin will be the next leader with numbers and can stake his claim. Of course, he too will have to get additional MLAs to get across the midway mark.
Even if Stalin doesn’t stake his claim, he will be the winner because the next option before the Governor is to impose President’s rule or dissolve the assembly. Either way, there would be elections in a year or so, which will be advantageous to him. In 1988, after the the Congress ruled Centre dismissed the Janaki Ramachandran government because the majority it managed was dubious, the President’s rule lasted a year. In the subsequent election, the DMK-alliance won a massive majority of 169 seats, that was 137 seats more than what they had managed in 1984. The Jayalalithaa faction of the AIADMK (comparable to the OPS faction now) got only 27 seats and the Janaki faction (the possible equivalent of the Sasikala faction), just two.
So, Stalin could sit pretty and let the situation unfold itself. Whichever way it culminates, he is certainly going to be an incidental beneficiary. If he is really playing some proactive role, that will not alter his chances, but will only make his benefits more intentional.
Is there any chance of him being part of the OPS-strategy? Responding to Sasikala’s allegation that the DMK is behind OPS, Stalin was dismissive. He said he didn't have time to even pay attention to such charges. All that he had said so far was that Sasikala was not fit to be the Chief Minister because when Jaya was alive she never gave any party job to her and that OPS could continue.
These words are not good enough to indicate a backroom alliance. As Stalin had said earlier, DMK lost power to the AIADMK only because of a difference of 1.1 per cent voteshare. When he is the king himself, will he play a kingmaker by propping up OPS? His game will be only to fish in troubled waters: tacitly encourage OPS and defuse Sasikala’s Chief Ministerial possibility. What follows will be an early election, which will be good for him. In the process, OPS will do everything to harm Sasikala.
The only indication that Stalin may have played a part in the OPS-plot is his proposed meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Probably, it’s a tri-party strategy in which Stalin has a passive role. His supporting OPS in the assembly is impossible because the latter has no chance to become a Chief Minister in the present assembly - under the anti defection law, he and his supporting MLAs will get automatically disqualified the moment they vote against Sasikala. Their only chance of escaping the axe of the anti defection law is to get two-third of the AIADMK MLAs, which is impossible under present circumstances.
Should Stalin do anything more? Not really. He just needs to play along and do everything to ensure that Sasikala doesn’t get through in the assembly. Whatever happens next will be only good for him. Stalin coming back will be more probable than a new-age OPS winning more popular mandate and Sasikala making a comeback.
He should continue to keep a low profile. The OPS-Sasikala chain reaction doesn’t need any more catalysts now. Probably, the only thing he can do is to speak to the Congress high command and ensure that their handful of MLAs don’t fall for bumper offers.
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