For Tamil Nadu, 2017 will be all about the beginning of a new chapter in Dravidian politics. The two stalwarts who ruled the state in the last three decades – the late J Jayalalithaa and an an ailing M Karunanidhi (92), who is almost retired from active politics, will make way for Jayalalithaa’s successor V K Sasikala and Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin. The latter two will have to try to fill the enormous political vacuum left behind by veterans.
The only notable political event in the coming year will be the upcoming local body and cooperative bank elections and the by-poll to R K Nagar assembly constituency following Jayalalithaa’s death. While the by-poll is expected before June 2017, the local body elections and the cooperative bank polls in the next few months are a crucial political process with nearly one lakh posts to be filled. Many observers believe this will be a critical test for the leadership skills of both Sasikala and Stalin as the results of these polls will give some indication of the direction both will take in the near future. It will also be the first time the public will be asked to choose between the two new leaders — Sasikala and Stalin.
A less-exciting year than 2016
With no major political controversies as of now, 2017 could be a year of consolidation for the two major regional parties. The impact of Jayalalithaa’s death and the sudden entry of her close aide Sasikala, a woman who lived with Jayalalithaa for 30 years and managed most of her party and personal affairs behind the scenes, into the mainstream politics is something that will be keenly watched in the coming months.
On the other hand, Stalin is a better known quantity having been the main DMK campaigner during the assembly elections last summer. Unlike Sasikala, his experience of working with people for over four decades – as a DMK student and youth leader to holding various junior party posts, to being Chennai Mayor and an MLA as well as Deputy Chief Minister – could well be an advantage for him as party chief in the absence of his father’s active involvement in day to day party matters.
The other politicians to look out for in 2017 are the current AIADMK Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and DMK leader and Stalin’s sister Kanimozhi.
While AIADMK leaders see no immediate tussle between Panneerselvam and Sasikala, many DMK leaders who spoke to The Indian Express said Kanimozhi could play an important role for the party. “If the 2G case doesn’t harm her, she can be the woman leader of the DMK in Tamil Nadu or the face of party in Delhi,” said a leader.
Roadmap of smaller parties in Tamil Nadu
Other parties in the state, including national players like the Congress and the BJP or the Left parties do not seem to have a clear road map of how to exploit the void left by absence of the two towering politicians.
The Congress is in no shape to take advantage of the current situation. S Thirunavukkarasar, state Congress Chief, has a long track record of moving from one party to another – AIADMK to BJP to Congress in the last four decades. By bringing him in, the Congress high command denied a chance to EVKS Elangovan with his organisational skills and actor-turned-politician Khushboo, the only woman leader in the state respected for her oratory skills and secular-progressive stand.
The case is not so different in BJP either. “We are a bunch of paper tigers. If you don’t find us in one channel, take the remote and change the channel and you will find us on the next one,” said a popular BJP leader.
Neither the Left parties nor the Dalit party VCK which comprises the People’s Welfare Front (PWF), a third front which Vaiko’s MDMK quit recently, have a clear strategy for the next year.
“If this is how it is going to be in the next year too, you will soon find us in DMK camp. Problem is we don’t even feel that there is a leadership vacuum, we really don’t see an emergency to activate the system,” said a senior PWF leader, adding that joining either DMK or AIADMK may be the only solution before the Left parties or the VCK in absence of good leadership.
For the CPI, said a senior leader, “It was a slow death.” “They (Delhi leaders) facilitated the death. First we became a B team of AIADMK, and now reduced to a mere corpse in the state politics,” explained a CPI leader.
The smaller parties in the state have are also struggling to run their organisations and pay the bills and wages of office bearers too. Two days ago, addressing a meeting of party men, MDMK leader Vaiko was seen lamenting his struggles to run the party on a daily basis.
So, on the eve of a new, not only the state but the parties too are facing a crisis – a crisis of dealing not knowing about to go forward.