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Sasikala as the new Tamil Nadu Chief Minister: Does BJP have a Plan B?

VK Sasikala, Tamil Nadu’s new Amma, doesn’t seem to be as reluctant a politician as she initially appeared to have been. The official appeal from the AIADMK's propaganda secretary and a party veteran today urging her to take over the chief ministership of Tamil Nadu clearly indicates that her script is still unfolding.

Three things indicate that this appeal by M Thambidurai, who is also the deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha and the party’s most prominent leader in Delhi — is stage-managed: one, it was released officially by the AIADMK; two, it elaborates the rationale for her becoming the chief minister as probably she herself would do; and three, Thambidurai was a competitor to O Panneerselvam for the top job after Jayalalithaa died.

VK Sasikala on her first day as AIADMK general secretary. Image courtesy: Twitter@AIADMKOfficial

VK Sasikala on her first day as AIADMK general secretary. Image courtesy: Twitter@AIADMKOfficial

Moreover, Thambidurai belongs to an equally powerful caste faction (Gounder) within the party and has never been seen as a Sasikala camper. Making him do the bidding is a great plan. That it was him who was seen publicly appealing to a sobbing Sasikala to lead the party before the general council meeting of the AIADMK itself hints to such a backroom setting.

The main rationale in Thambidurai’s appeal is what the Congress had been accused of during UPA 1 and 2, when Sonia Gandhi led the party while Manmohan Singh headed the government. Thambidurai said for fulfilling the vision of Jayalalithaa, both the party leader and the chief minister have to be the same person. “We have seen that people in India have not accepted the situation where the leadership of the Party is in one hand and the leadership of the Government is in another hand; and that, the Government has focused its attention on its single goal and fulfilled the election promises made to the people, when the leadership of both the Party and the Government was in one person's hand.”

Referring to situations when the responsibilities were divided, he said, “…such Governments have lost their credibility among the people, when the leadership of the Party and the leadership of the Government was in the hands of two different persons.”

He added that Sasikala’s maiden speech had made the party cadres confident. “The Address made by Respected Chinnamma, for the Party Cadres, immediately after assuming the General Secretaryship of the AIADMK Party, has melted the hearts of all of us. The points in the Address of Respected Chinnamma, with all sincerity and responsibility, have made us feel happy that the task of taking forward the Party has been handed over to the right person,” he said in his appeal.

What remains to be seen now is if this elaborate appeal has been designed to create a sacrificial image for Sasikala. She could decline to become the chief minister and emulate Sonia Gandhi with no compromise on her power and authority. She could use the time before the parliamentary elections to establish herself as a leader and probably take the top job after the next assembly elections. But, this option is unlikely because the next assembly elections are still four years away.

On the other hand, if the plan is as straightforward as it looks, O Panneerselvam’s days are numbered. With him will also go the plans of the BJP central leadership to use him as a proxy to push its agenda. Reportedly, Panneerselvan had been promised all support to continue with Jaya’s rule by none other than Prime Minister Modi himself and that he had been advised to be in touch with the bureaucracy in Delhi.

Whether Panneerselvam was tempted by such an offer or not, through Thambidurai, Sasikala has nipped his aspirations in the bud.

Panneerselvam will easily move over without offering any resistance. He doesn’t have the political capital or the resources to split the party although he belongs to Thevar community that’s very influential in the party because Sasikala is also a Thevar. Caste loyalists will stay with Sasikala, the most powerful Thevar, than Panneerselvam. It’s anybody’g guess if Panneerselvam will suffer any damage because of the Centre’s reported machinations.

With her speech at the AIADMK general council, Sasikala has made it very clear that she is as good as any other seasoned leader in the state and that she is in it for the long haul. Except for some from within the party, and the leaders of other political parties that might have had dealt with her for alliance talks, nobody had heard Sasikala before. However, when she spoke to the party top brass, and the cadres through live telecast, her leadership was cemented with absolute submission. She didn’t sound like an amateur who had been pushed to be a leader by circumstances, but as somebody who was already on the job.

Hers was a perfect show — controlled emotions that evoked her rightful place as Jaya’s legacy-holder, impressive voice for a public speaker, practised intonation and above all, a language that was politically very astute. It was a perfect launch-script. For people who haven’t heard her and thought about her only as Jaya’s caretaker or friend, it was a revelation.

Probably, Sasikala’s speech was a revelation for the opposition leader MK Stalin as well. If she indeed becomes the chief minister and begins her political tour of the state as has been reported in the media, he has to be very careful in his counter-strategy. He may have to wait for some more time before identifying the right point of vulnerability that he can work on.

And the foxy BJP? Does it have a Plan B?

Updated Date: Jan 02, 2017 17:36 PM

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