To elect, or re-elect a chief minister, the AIADMK needs to call only the MLAs for a meeting. But to elect a new general secretary, it would have to conduct direct elections with all registered cadres participating and voting.
And that is just the beginning of its problems, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
The expected has happened, though with a not-so-expected twist -- and unexpected results.
The inevitable reunification of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam n Tamil Nadu was anyway expected to take place after the by-election to the R K Nagar assembly seat, held by late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Citing unprecedented money-play for any constituency in the country, the Election Commission cancelled the by-poll. This has provided the space, time and rationale for re-unification thoughts to gain instant momentum.
Caught in the web is the unsuspected side-lining of the ‘Sasikala family’, and their meek acceptance of their fate. The reasons for both are not far to seek.
With his ‘forced exit’ as chief minister and rebellion against the leadership of general secretary V K Sasikala Natarajan, O Panneerselvam (OPS) had stirred up a near-dying controversy surrounding Amma’s death.
Sasikala’s imprisonment in the disproportionate wealth case against Jaya, and the former nominating her nephew T T V Dinakaran, only added to the furore.
The money-play at R K Nagar, where Dinakaran was the candidate of the ‘official faction’ that went by the name ‘AIADMK (Amma)’ following the anticipated post-Jaya split in the party, did the faction in even more.
Worse followed when the Delhi police, coming under the Union home ministry, arrested a history-sheeter, Sudeesh Chandrashekar, and filed an FIR against Dinakaran for allegedly trying to bribe Election Commission officials, for getting a favourable verdict over the frozen ‘Two Leaves’ party symbol.
The dye had been cast. Dinakaran was the Sasi faction’s candidate in R K Nagar, and the second-line leaders of the party found that they had to ‘import’ all their ‘cadres’ from outside even to bribe the voters. These ‘cadres’ could not even walk the streets of the constituency in daylight, with the result they ended up being caught red-handed at night.
The second-line leadership was finally and fully convinced that the party cadres were not for the Sasi-Dinakaran combine. Dinakaran himself got the hint early on, and assiduously avoided references to Sasikala or use of her pictures throughout his aborted election campaign. The voter-cadre anger against the family over Jaya’s death was more than the expected sympathy for Chinnamma’s imprisonment.
The Delhi case, with attendant rumours of Dinakaran’s imminent arrest, meant that he cannot hope to become chief minister in the foreseeable future. Old and forgotten ghosts also returned to Dinakaran’s life as forex fraud cases and hefty fines linked to Jaya’s first term as chief minister (1991-96) were revived, and without any respite from the courts.
This meant that Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Sasikala’s choice when her imprisonment became a real possibility, was gaining the upper hand even within the faction. Through the R K Nagar campaign, the Edappadi camp within the Sasi faction was displaying visible lack of interest in putting its heart and soul in it.
The sea-change came overnight, after Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai returned from Delhi and straightaway went into confabulations with Edappadi, Dinakaran and a host of other leaders and ministers. He was the one to moot the re-merger as a necessity, a distinct possibility.
Earlier, Thambidurai had taken on the Centre and the BJP leaders at the Centre almost head-on, despite being deputy speaker under their care. Among other things, he would lend credibility to stray demands for making Sasikala chief minister just when OPS was beginning to settle down.
Today, not only Thambidurai but even state minister R V Udayakumar, who publicly proposed ‘Sasi for CM’ even while continuing in the OPS government, are all for re-merger and without the ‘Sasi family’.
Dinakaran refused to read the writing on the wall first. But within 24 hours, he was a changed man. After claiming that the party and MLAs were with him, he said he would welcome the re-merger. Dinakaran also followed it up by saying that he would step aside immediately, and step down as deputy general secretary after consultations with the jailed Sasikala, who had nominated him to the post.
Today, the ‘family’ wants the party more than the other way round. If anything, with OPS stirring up emotions over Jaya’s death and non-cadre sympathisers of Jaya citing Sasi as the one who pulled her down, a re-unified party just could not afford it.
Insiders claim the downfall of the family started when Sasikala sidelined her shrewder husband M Natarajan, over time and sought to promote herself instead.
True or not, they believe that Natarajan would have handled Jaya’s hospitalisation-related issues better, if brought in early on. A stage has now come when nothing seems capable of redeeming the family and its name, fair or not.
In the process, Sasi’s elevation of Dinakaran and her complete sidelining of MN (who also incidentally took ill afterwards) and her own brother Divakaran meant that the party lost its able, efficient and yet over-ambitious backroom operatives for good, party men say.
For this, they blame Jaya too in private, belatedly conceding that like her mentor and AIADMK founder, the late M G Ramachandran, she should have also identified a political successor/heir.
For all this, however, re-unification of the party after the complete sidelining of the Sasi family too is not going to be as easy as it happened post-MGR.
Importantly, the AIADMK was not in power at the time, and all power and attraction rested with the general secretary. Today, one faction is in power, and Edappadi is its CM.
Jaya, a Brahmin, was above caste in AIADMK and state politics, like MGR before her. Coming as they do from different communities and regions that had given the party equally massive support in the 2016 assembly polls, Edappadi, a Gounder from the West, and OPS, a Mukkulathore from the South, also represent interest groups.
There can be a compromise over the party general secretary’s post, but therein would be the real hitch. Re-unification on paper is the easiest thing that can happen. So can be the inclusion or sacking of ministers, to make the state cabinet united, if not homogeneous on day one.
To elect, or re-elect a chief minister, they need to call only the MLAs for a meeting. But to elect a new general secretary, they would have to conduct direct elections with all registered cadres participating and voting. With the OPS camp having gone to the EC against Sasikala’s choice, citing this very infirmity in her appointment, it is unlikely that they could do anything otherwise.
The unified AIADMK claimed a registered cadre strength of 1.5 crores. Outside of the EC and governmental elections, no political party in the country has the proven infrastructure or methodology required to conduct a state/region-wide polls for the topmost party post.
The AIADMK has units in Puducherry, Karnataka, Kerala, the Andamans and a host of other states, too. Even if there are half a dozen non-serious candidates unwilling to withdraw from the race, then they would have a massive problem on hand, to conduct the polls -- or, face court-centric challenges on the genuineness of the membership registration procedure, etc.
Unlike the national elections conducted by the EC, there is no constitutional or legal protection for political parties to similarly bar court involvement once organisational polls at that levels and preparations are notified, and until after the results are announced.
A determined Sasi camp, or remnants of the same even if the main players are sacked from the unified party, could still create problems.
Experience would show that they are best at stalling processes and procedures than the rest.
All of it could mean that whichever faction or leader is offered the party general secretary’s post, they would have to take the real risk of having to sit it out for a much longer time than they would have been prepared for.
Unless he puts his heart truly into re-unification, a chief minister who is chosen straightaway could keep it that way for a long time to come.
Yet, in between the party would have to face the R K Nagar by-election, whenever held. The question would then arise on the party authorised signatory for ‘Form B’, for allocation of the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, if restored without trouble.
Under the AIADMK constitution, the general secretary is the authorised signatory. If the re-constituted executive or general council authorises someone else in the place of the general secretary, even pending organisational polls, that could be contested in civil courts.
The negotiators for re-unification should also think about the possibility of amending the party by-laws to facilitate an easier mode of electing the general secretary. Considering that the original by-laws provide for all-cadre vote, would it imply that neither the party executive, nor the general council can change them, even if otherwise empowered?
An added controversy surrounding Jaya’s death was her thumb impression found affixed on the nomination papers for three by-elections, held -- and won for the party -- when she was in hospital.
Like this one, the Tamil Nadu voter in this era of social media is more than informed and educated about all the pending and possible cases of corruption, tax-raids and the like.
Included in the list is the sudden appearance/recovery of Rs 560 crores in three containers in Tiruppur on the eve of the May 2016 assembly polls across the state.
The State Bank of India claimed ownership of the cash, but the last word does not seem to have been heard about the CBI probe the courts ordered into the same.
The ghosts of these cases can jump out of the battle constantly and revive fading memories of the past in the minds of the people, well into the future. Like the ‘assets case’ did for Jaya a full 20 years later, and is doing to Sasikala and Dinakaran since.
It also remains to be seen if in the name of mutual accommodation, the collective leadership that is being planned ends up losing control over the second line, the ministers and MLAs, who are not incapable of bringing a bad name to the party, when another round of elections become due in 2019 (Lok Sabha) and 2021 (assembly).
All of it, assuming that Dinakaran keeps his word, of welcoming the re-merger, and does not try to poach party MLAs and compromises the unified party’s legislative strength, or use it as a bargaining chip in more ways than one -- and also succeeds in doing so.
In all this melee, there is a forgotten name. J Deepa, Jaya’s niece, has disappeared as fast as she came, though she did not rise or even measure up.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.