As late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s close confidante VK Sasikala takes centrestage in the party, political hawks and party cadre allege a breakdown of constitutional machinery in Tamil Nadu
Since 8 December, two days after late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa was buried in Chennai, new Chief Minister O Panneerselvam along with 31 others ministers in his cabinet have trooped in and out of Poes Garden every day. ‘Veda Nilayam’ in Poes Garden was the home of Jayalalithaa when she lived. After her death, these leaders of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are arriving at this house to meet and take instructions from VK Sasikala, a long time friend and confidante of Jayalalithaa.
By 10 December, senior leaders, MPs and state ministers, including Panneerselvam, had issued statements and media interviews, asking Sasikala to take over as leader of the party. As of now, Sasikala remains an AIADMK member. She has no post in the party yet and has never fought an election to date.
State police chief TK Rajendran and Chief Secretary Rama Mohan Rao too visited Poes Garden in the past week after the Chief Minister’s passing. It is unclear what transpired there.
The leaders have bowed to ‘Chinnamma’ (little mother), as Sasikala is known, but the cadre and voters are unhappy. Raasu Maasilamani, 35, who hails from Manapakkam questioned Sasikala’s role in the party. “I voted for Amma, she was my Chief Minister too,” said Maasilamani. “Who are these people (Sasikala’s family) to take over like that? I will not vote for the AIADMK again,” he said.
Vennila Balamurugan, 36, from Poonamallee in Chennai echoed his views. “I am a voter, I have a right to choose my leader. I cannot accept her (Sasikala) as my leader. I am not afraid. I have the right to question and she has a lot to answer for,” she said angrily.
The party cadre is more circumspect in their approach. “For now, a wait and watch approach is being adopted,” said one party functionary in Chennai who did not wish to be named. Another party functionary from Puducherry broke down when asked about his acceptance of Sasikala’s leadership. “I don’t want to say anything madam,” he sobbed. “This Kazhagam (party) is a temple built by our Amma. It is my duty to protect this temple. That is all,” he said. While insisting on not being named, one former MLA candidate of the AIADMK raged about the ‘family’ now calling the shots. “The Mannargudi clan (Sasikala’s family) was not allowed anywhere near Amma or Poes Garden when she was alive,” he said. “Now look at them. They surrounded her body at Rajaji Hall and they are all living in Poes Garden now. What will happen to the AIADMK and Tamil Nadu?” he asked.
Political analysts too are astounded at what they call the blatant defiance of constitutional processes. They point to how critics in Delhi slammed the power wielded by Congress President Sonia Gandhi when the UPA government was at the helm of affairs at the Centre. “Why is the newly appointed Chief Minister of the state going and meeting with a person who was just a companion of the late Chief Minister?” asked C Lakshmanan, political analyst and Associate Professor with the Madras Institute of Development Studies. “Does protocol or any provision in the Constitution allow Panneerselvam to do this? It is completely unusual and a wielding of extra constitutional power at its height,” he said.
Lakshmanan also points to repeated irregularities in protocol and violation of Constitution during the past 2 months when Jayalalithaa was unwell and hospitalised. “The acting Governor of the state has a role to play. When the Chief Minister was unwell and unable to discharge her duties, the onus lies on the council of ministers. Governor should have appointed an interim Chief Minister until Jayalalithaa had recovered and assumed charge. But the entire process was controlled by one group or one person – Sasikala. Just because the Chief Minister was close to her for over 30 years, does it mean that she can take all decisions?” he questioned.
Senior journalist RK Radhakrishnan too agreed. “By any definition, Sasikala is an extra constitutional authority,” he told Firstpost. “But she did not become such an authority only after Jayalalithaa died – she was one the day Jayalalithaa assumed office (in 1991). Assembly records will show that she was seated inside the Assembly once though she was not a member – right next to Jayalalithaa,” he recalled.
Radhakrishnan points to more serious issues – what if Sasikala, who is not an elected representative of the people, is privy to official secrets? What kind of a situation would that lead to? “Can she hold a secret? There is no reason to believe that she will act any differently from the way she acted in these past two and a half decades. If anything, knowing that the spotlight is on her, she might act even better – she might actually be an extra constitutional guardian of the state,” he said.
Questions abound over Sasikala’s role in state affairs and what this will mean to Tamil Nadu in the near future. As for the AIADMK leaders and ministers, they are biding their time, waiting to see who will make the first clarion call against the present leadership.
Updated Date: Dec 13, 2016 12:49:09 IST