Sasikala as Tamil Nadu CM: BJP caught between rock and hard place on Jayalalithaa's aide's annointment
For the moment, the BJP-led Centre appears to be caught between its desire to stop Sasikala and the compulsion to follow the law in word and spirit.
MK Stalin is right when he says people of Tamil Nadu did not vote for anybody from J Jayalalithaa's household to become chief minister of the state.
And, it seems, ultimately the people of Tamil Nadu will decide the fate of the woman who has anointed herself as the chinnamma of the state. That moment could be just a few months away.
Constitutionally, there is very little anybody can do to stall VK Sasikala's bloodless coup and stop her from becoming the state's chief minister. Once the legislators of the party with the majority elect someone as their leader, the governor has no option but to continue with the swearing-in. Since Sasikala has been elected as their chief minister by all the 136 MLAs of her party, Tamil Nadu Governor C Vidyasagar Rao can delay it further.
The only hurdle in Sasikala's way is the Supreme Court judgment on the disproportionate asset's case in which Chinnamma is a co-accused with Jayalalithaa. The verdict is expected any time. If Sasikala is found guilty and her acquittal by the high court is reversed, she would have to step down, or barred from taking over as chief minister. If she is acquitted, nothing can stop her.
For the moment, the BJP-led Centre appears to be caught between its desire to stop Sasikala and the compulsion to follow the law in word and spirit. It has reportedly asked governor Rao to delay the swearing-in, perhaps in the hope that the Supreme Court verdict could be pronounced soon.
But, the BJP's choices are difficult. The AIADMK has the largest number of members in Parliament after the BJP. The Centre needs the AIADMK not just to help it in Parliament but also to get its candidate elected as the next President of India. The AIADMK numbers could become even more important if the Akalis get trounced in Punjab and the BJP doesn't win Uttar Pradesh, bringing down its numbers in the electoral college for the presidential election.
The dilemma for the BJP is this: How far can it go to stall Sasikala? And, if it does, what would be the repercussions? Will she become vengeful towards the Centre and join the anti-BJP coalition that could take shape after the elections in Uttar Pradesh? There is no easy answer to any of these questions.
Sasikala's impending ascent to the throne, incidentally, is not without precedence. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi was elected leader of the Congress parliamentarians after his mother's death in spite of his lack of experience. After his death, the Congress pulled PV Narasimha Rao, who had decided to not contest the 1991 election, out of retirement to lead the party and become the PM. Similarly, Narendra Modi was chosen as leader by the BJP legislators of Gujarat even when he had no prior experience of holding a government job and was not an elected member of the house.
But, there were two key differences between election of all these leaders and Sasikala's coup. One, their ascent was not shrouded in mystery, charges of conspiracies and subterfuge. Two, all these leaders had the support of the party cadres.
The reaction to Sasikala's election within the state and its cadres is a clear indication that people see her as a usurper, not a legitimate leader. Even the AIADMK workers are angry that she has captured Jayalalithaa's legacy without any political or moral legitimacy. The AIADMK cadres believed Sasikala has used her clout over the MLAs, many of whom may have got party tickets because of her since Jayalalithaa was unwell, to insult the mandate. It can be safely presumed that if fresh elections were to be held in TN today, the AIADMK under Sasikala may not return to power. But, elections are almost five years away.
But, Sasikala's day of reckoning may not be that far away. Even if she gets acquitted by the SC, gets sworn-in as CM, Sasikala will have to face the electorate within six months to enter the Assembly. Considering the anger on the ground and the resentment among AIADMK cadres, it may not be easy for Sasikala to retain power she has grabbed because of influence in the late CM's household.
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