Updated: March 9, 2021 9:09:21 am
Closer to the elections, the cast of characters on Tamil Nadu’s political stage seems to be thinning out. Superstar Rajinikanth, who promised a new “spiritual politics”, was the first to bow out citing health reasons. Last week, Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala Natarajan announced that she was stepping aside from active politics. The move was unexpected and intriguing since her return to Tamil Nadu in February after four years in a Bengaluru jail appeared to be choreographed in a manner that left no one in doubt about her political ambitions: It seemed clear that she sought to appropriate the legacy of Jayalalithaa and take over the AIADMK. However, her re-entry into the AIADMK was opposed by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and the issue threatened to divide the party. Her withdrawal from the fray leaves the AIADMK intact, at least for now, and Palaniswami has a free hand to decide on seat-sharing with allies and pick candidates.
It may be too early, however, to write Sasikala’s political obituary. In fact, her words suggest that her exit could be temporary, and that it is meant to facilitate the success of Amma’s party. The AIADMK has been here before. It was forced into a similar situation after its founder, M G Ramachandran, died in 1987. The inner-party struggle for control of the AIADMK and the film-star-turned-politician’s legacy, involving Jayalalithaa and MGR’s widow, Janaki Ramachandran, split the party and allowed the DMK to win office after more than a decade in opposition in the assembly election that followed. Later, the decimated AIADMK factions regrouped under Jayalalithaa while Janaki Ramachandran retired from politics. Palaniswami now has the unenviable task of leading the AIADMK in the face of incumbency — the party has been in office for a decade — and a formidable alliance led by the DMK. A fratricidal tussle today, on the eve of elections, could cost the party dearly and Sasikala would be forced to share the blame.
Now it is up to Palaniswami to prove his mettle as a leader or bow out. Interestingly, Palaniswami, a grassroots politician chosen by Sasikala for the CM’s office, has turned out to be a shrewd leader and a reasonably able administrator though it’s anybody’s guess if he can swing the polls his way this time. Politics in Tamil Nadu, always full of spectacular twists, may yet take a new turn.
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