The present political crisis of Tamil du need not have arisen at all except for an opportunistic surge of greed well beyond one’s worth that often motivates ambitious politicians in India. When Jayalalithaa passed away on December 5, people in Tamil du regarded O. Panneerselvam as a worthy successor to her. Besides, Panneerselvam had had two brief stints as Chief Minister of the State on earlier occasions when Jayalalitha had been imprisoned. Apart from the fact that he was a dyed-in-the-wool loyalist of Jayalalithaa, he is also an elected member of the Tamil du Assembly. That apart, in the two months of his stewardship after the passing away of Jayalalithaa he clearly established his capability as an administrator. There was every reason for the members of the AIADMK and the people of Tamil du to be happy about a smooth succession in the corridors of power immediately after the passing away of Jayalalitha.
However, matters within the AIADMK were not as simple as the casual onlooker might have guessed. Sasikala, who was officially the AIADMK general secretary, decided that she had a better right to be the Chief Minister of Tamil du merely by virtue of her very close association with Jayalalithaa in the last few years of her life. Sasikala was neither an elected member of the Tamil du Assembly nor even adequately educated to be the chief minister of a front-ranking State like Tamil du. With her middle-school education and without the political acumen of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala was bound to cut a sorry figure as chief minister of the State coming directly after Jayalalithaa. But one’s political ambition generally overlooks what must be considered as ‘trivial’ matters in the realm of politics. Sasikala must have sincerely believed that with her long association with Jayalalithaa she was amply qualified to mount a coup in the corridors of power. In a swift move that met with little resistance, Sasikala was unimously elected leader of the AIADMK legislature party on Sunday. And had it not been for a rather belated attempt at firefighting by Panneerselvam, she could have been sworn in as Chief Minister of Tamil du on Tuesday. Rather surprisingly, it was Panneerselvam himself who had made the following announcement at a meeting of the AIADMK MLAs at the party’s headquarters: “I now propose Chinmma Sasikala to be elected the leader of the legislature party and urge all the MLAs to second it.” Sasikala promptly acknowledged Panneerselvam’s gesture by recalling that he was the first person to have asked her to take over the leadership of the party and the government after Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5. She said she was not in a mental condition to do what Panneerselvam had suggested at that time, and so accepted only the leadership of the party. “Now I thank all of you for having elected me as the legislature party leader as well,” she told the meeting. It is abundantly clear now that Panneerselvam himself had a hand Sasikala’s election as leader of the AIADMK legislature party. Not content with just proposing Sasikala’s me as the leader of the AIADMK legislature party, he even submitted his resigtion as Chief Minister of Tamil du to the Governor. Sasikala could not have wished developments to be any better orchestrated considering that Panneerselvam had become increasingly popular within two months and had maged to endear himself to the people.
It was only on Tuesday morning that Panneerselvam woke up to the full implications of what he had done. His belated fire-fighting moves hinged on his claim that Sasikala and her clan had compelled him to step down and to sign his letter of resigtion that is with Governor Vidyasagar Rao. Sasikala and the AIADMK members supporting her are in a state of shock now after the way things have developed, and Sasikala has accused Panneerselvam of being a traitor to the party and of having covertly aligned with the DMK—a charge that Panneerselvam has refuted. Mercifully, the Governor chose to listen to Panneerselvam before he listened to anyone else after his return from Mumbai on Thursday. Later in the evening, he also listened to Sasikala who met the Governor with ten ministers. However, till the point of writing this on Friday, he had not taken any precipitate action to install Sasikala as chief minister. It is also possible that he might be inclined to return Panneerselvam’s letter of resigtion. The stand of the AIADMK MLAs has surprised a lot of people, considering that they are backing a woman who has no political experience, little education and possibly very little political acumen. Besides, she is not an elected leader of the party. There are allegations that AIADMK MLAs supporting her are doing so under duress, since they have all been taken to a holiday resort near Mahaabalipuram in buses and detained there. They are not even being allowed to use their cell phones. There is every indication of their being held at the resort as hostages. The Governor has deputed the DGP of the State to visit the resort and meet the MLAs. The one equation that is emerging clearly now is that every hour’s delay in being installed as chief minister of the State could fast erode the support base that Sasikala enjoys. MLAs are already beginning to leave her in ones and twos.