The void left by Jayalalithaa is hard to fill in Tamil Nadu politics and more so in her party, the AIADMK, and both Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palaniswami and his deputy Panneerselvam have been learning it the hard way.
Though they were seniors for long in the party, they were never allowed to take up substantial responsibilities like leading campaigns or scripting election victories. And even Panneerselvam, as CM during Jayalalitha’s absence, did not have any control over the party.
Jayalalithaa ran the party like an autocrat and anyone however big could be thrown out of the party without any notice, what so ever. It is difficult for outsiders to understand the fear and absolute obedience that she commanded.
However, despite her compulsive shuffling of ministers and party men, it looks that over a period of time some of them survived it all, and they now form the present leadership of the AIADMK.
The survival toolkit for them over the years included among other things: absolute obedience, periodic protestations of loyalty, being under the radar, and never ever showing off the intellectual skills-if they had any.
After Jayalalitha’s death, the party goes on with ministers enjoying their new found independence, real power and the perks that come with it. Despite predictions of collapse, it has coasted along.
Such a lack of control over the ministers has also led to a flowering of new ideas. One minister wanted to cover a dam full of water with thermocol material to prevent water evaporation. It ended in a disaster.
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Such diversions apart, Palaniswami and Pannerselvam managing the party have to tread gingerly over individual egos, aspirations, ideas and entitlements: all suppressed for long under Jayalalitha.
There are three moving parts to the story. The leaders, the cadres and the voters. Leaders are basking in their new found freedom, the cadres are happy with contracts and postings, while the voter might be drifting away.
AIADMK has always been led by strong charismatic leaders and its voter base has a tendency to gravitate towards such leaders.
Interestingly, there are voices within the party showing that they might be searching for a parental figure, after Jayalalitha. If not Amma then Appa.
Rajenthra Bhalaji, an AIADMK minister blurted out recently giving vent to lack-of-a-parent anxiety gripping the party.
Bhalaji claimed that Modi had been guiding the AIADMK since the death of Amma, and adds: “But in today’s context, due to the absence of Amma, Modi is our daddy. He is our daddy. India’s daddy”
It is certainly not the official stance of the party as it was till recently espousing a nuanced but critical view on Modi.
But it remains to be seen how the AIADMK would go after the 2019 general elections and more importantly the bypolls to the crucial 18 assembly seats.
The AIADMK has to win at least in about 10 assembly seats in the bypolls to remain comfortably in power till the end of its term in 2021.
It’s quite an uphill task. If something goes wrong; it is better to have a parental figure by your side.