After Amma, What Now For Tamil Politics?
The five-time chief minister Jayalalithaa, the undisputed leader of the one of the two Dravidian parties which ruled the state since 1967, died leaving behind a vacuum in the political scene of Tamil Nadu.
AIADMK supporters outside Apollo Hospital in Chennai. (File photo)
The fight is over. The five-time chief minister Jayalalithaa, the undisputed leader of the one of the two Dravidian parties which ruled the state since 1967, died leaving behind a vacuum in the political scene of Tamil Nadu. With the 92-year-old leader of the other Dravidian party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK), M Karunanidhi also in the intensive care unit of another hospital, the state is staring at an uncertain political future.
Jayalalithaa has not built up a second line of leadership in the party unlike her mentor MG Ramachandran who groomed her as his heir apparent. Probably she felt very insecure to do so especially in the male-dominated politics of the state. While she was out of power or in jail because of court verdicts she appointed an innocuous O Panneerselvam as the chief minister and ruled by proxy. Even during her stay in the hospital, the state governor had to intervene to designate Panneerselvam to look after the day-to-day affairs of the government as the party was reluctant to make an interim arrangement.
AIADMK won the elections in May this year with comfortable majority and has more than four and a half years to rule. But with the exit of the popular and charismatic leader who could put her foot down on any dissent in the party, factional fights are likely to emerge soon. The possible contenders for the top post are of course Panneerselvam, Thambi Durai, seasoned politician Ponnayyan (who was also a minister in the cabinet of late MG Ramachandran.) And of course there is a strong speculation that Jayalalithaa’s close associate Sasikala Natarajan might also throw her hat into the ring. But with the disproportionate wealth case pending in the Supreme Court, that possibility looks bleak.
The main opposition DMK, which emerged stronger in the May elections, may be hoping to cash in on the present scenario. But the charisma of the old leader Karunanidhi is fading and it appears he has lost his grip on the party with most of the cadres supporting his son MK Stalin. Karunanidhi’s reluctance to announce Stalin as the party chief has not gone well with the cadres. The DMK also faces an uncertain future as the party is mired with factional fighting among the various family members. DMK’s reputation remains greatly damaged by cases pending against its prominent members including the Marans of the Sun TV. The DMK has to wait for another four and a half years unless a major split occurs in the AIADMK, which is quite unlikely as everyone in the party knows they won’t be able win another poll without Amma.
Among the other political parties, the much-hyped DMDK of the film star Vijaykanth has been decimated totally in the recent election and has almost become non-existent. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) of former Union minister Anbumani Ramdoss, which talks about great ideals, has not gone well with the masses with its casteist outlook although it has sizable base in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu. In recent years it has openly come out against the Dalits of the state.
What is baffling though is the fact that the MDMK has not fared well electorally even though its leader Vaiko is a good orator and continues to be very popular. A political analyst told me that it is the right time for Vaiko to grab the leaderless AIADMK and people will be only pleased to support him.
As for the national parties, after 1967, the Congress has never been able to capture power – or even win respectable number of seats on its own. It has always been piggy-backing on either of the Dravidian parties .With no charismatic leader, the state Congress is riddled with several factions and is just a prop of its high command.
The BJP has no presence in Tamil Nadu. It is still considered as the party of “North Indian Hindi chauvinists”. People of Tamil Nadu, the land of Periyar, so far have refused to vote for the BJP even when the Narendra Modi wave swept the country. However, this image is slowly fading and the BJP is considered as a natural ally of the AIADMK. And the cadres know that Modi is a close friend of Jayalalithaa. One cannot also forget that the DMK, now more vehemently opposed to the BJP, was an ally of the BJP and was part of the NDA government.
Now perhaps politically ambitious film stars may step in keeping in view of the tradition of film stars becoming leaders. Of course, the super star Rajnikanth who was widely speculated to enter politics in 1996 is also not keeping good health and has almost become a recluse. That leaves another popular star Vijay who has a huge mass base.
(The author is a former BBC correspondent)
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