The bizarre political drama in Tamil Nadu takes a dramatic twist with the conviction of VK Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case. The Supreme Court verdict on Tuesday virtually ended her chief ministerial ambition. A review petition is still an option, but... And that’s indeed a big but.
However, the verdict in the two-decade-old case was not entirely unexpected. The miscalculation of her disproportionate assets in the Karnataka High Court verdict of 2015 was all too glaring.
That makes her hurry to become chief minister a bit perplexing. It is possible that she wanted to take full control of the party before the court’s verdict. It would have served her interest better to have a chief minister of her choice. That way she would still be the person in charge of the AIADMK and the state. In short, she wanted to have a proxy — her own O Panneerselvam — before going to jail.
It’s obvious she was not expecting any resistance from Panneerselvam after smoothly taking over as the party’s leader. But the development over the last few days, aided by the delay from the governor Vidayasagar Rao to take a call on the issue of chief minister, foiled her game plan.
Where does that leave Panneerselvam? It’s not clear yet. Sasikala has just made his case complicated by issuing him the expulsion order. She has also unleashed a fresh round of power struggle by selecting four-time legislator E Palanisamy as the party’s leader. It means Panneerselvam now has to win over a large number of lawmakers to prove his acceptability within the party and stake his claim to be chief minister.
These numbers may not be easy to get. Sasikala commanded 119 legislators while he has managed to muster 10 and two parliamentarians. It is hazy how many of those 119 MLAs will bolt to his side after the court’s verdict. Reports say at least 50 are willing to switch sides. The next battleground for him would be the legislative Assembly, where he will need to prove his majority when Rao asks him to do it.
Whichever way the developments go, it is certain that the AIADMK won’t remain the same. Neither Panneerselvam nor Palanisamy enjoys the cult status of the late J Jayalalithaa. The cadre had decided to accord it to Sasikala, calling her Chinnamma. A stint in power would have allowed her to establish herself and move out of the shadows of Jayalalithaa. That is closed now. The party is likely to witness heavy internal conflict in the coming days.
A victory for either claimant for the top would not be the end of the problems. The party could head for a split too. Panneerselvam has already claimed victory and invoked Amma in his bid to attract legislators in Sasikala’s camp to support him. But it won’t be easy for him to move ahead. Despite being chief minister a number of times, he is still in the company of equals. Not many would be prepared to accept him as leader. Being Amma’s proxy may prove to be his undoing. Palanisamy is still an untested quantity. He will need to prove himself. Being Sasikala’s proxy is not certainly the same as being Jayalalithaa’s. Neither has the force of personality.
Expect the leadership conflict to escalate and be damaging on the party in the coming days.
Updated Date: Feb 14, 2017 14:22 PM