A new political crisis brews in Tamil Nadu, says R Rajagopalan.
A new political crisis is brewing in the VK Sasikala camp in Tamil Nadu -- differences between Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and party general secretary VK Sasikala.
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazahagam insiders fear that these differences could lead to a third split in the party, which could even bring down the Palaniswami government.
After former CM J Jayalalithaa’s death last year, the party split into two -- the ‘AIADMK Amma’ faction led by Sasikala and the ‘AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma' faction led by O Panneerselvam.
But first, the genesis of the crisis.
The Tamil Nadu government has begun the process of confiscating properties attached in the disproportionate assets case against J Jayalalithaa and three others, in compliance with the trial court order that was upheld by the Supreme Court in February. Sources say the government’s decision to set in motion the court order on the confiscation of Jaya’s properties is bound to boomerang on the EPS camp.
Ever since the court ruling, the O Panneerselvam camp has been instigating the Sasikala camp by attaching an emotive value to Jayalalithaa’s properties.
On Wednesday, the party’s deputy general secretary and Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran, who has been convicted in the disproportionate assets case and is in Tihar jail, is expecting bail. If that happens and he is released, the crisis will deepen.
The OPS camp spokesperson Dr V Maitreyan told this correspondent that while the apex court has ruled that Jayalalithaa’s properties should be confiscated, but as the ruling party in the state they should appeal the order.
District collectors of the six districts where the 68 properties belonging to Jayalalithaa are located have been told to take possession of the properties. The properties are expected to fetch the state government a few hundred crores.
But there are plans afoot to ensure that the properties stay with Sasikala’s relatives. Sources say that when the auction takes place, Sasikala’s men will offer the highest bids.
Senior ministers in Palaniswami’s council of ministers who owe their allegiance to Sasikala have asked that an appeal be filed in the Supreme Court which would delay the execution of the auction.
Moreover, this faction is still waiting for Sasikala's views from jail. Sasikala still commands the support of at least 25 to 30 MLAs who can make it difficult for Palaniswami to continue. But the CM has gone ahead and instructed Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan to issue orders to the Directorate of Anti Corruption and Vigilance to proceed with the implementation of the apex court orders. AIADMK insiders say the chief minister will lose Sasikala’s confidence if this happens.
The OPS camp wants the Tamil Nadu government to fall. There is also a wellspring of emotion against the Sasikala faction and the OPS camp wants to milk it.
The Sasikala camp has also been stewing about being kept out of key meetings. For instance, the CM’s meeting with PM Narendra Modi last week at which the only other person was the CM’s relative, Manickam, who acted as the translator.
Sasikala loyalists are pointing out the ‘coincidence’ of the orders for the confiscation of Amma’s properties immediately after the CM met the PM. The EPS camp says it is apprehensive that its plan of action could be leaked to the Sasikala camp.
That's not all. Two prime suspects in the recent murder of a watchman at the Kodanad Estate bungalow of Jayalalithaa, have been involved in serious road accidents, leaving one dead and the other critically injured. The Sasikala camp has pressured the CM to go slow on the probe, but the Kerala police have almost closed the case. In fact, the OPS camp is now demanding a CBI probe into these deaths.
And there is the other factor -- Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa and the heir apparent of the multi-crore Poes Garden properties in the absence of a will. The legal process to take over Jaya’s properties will therefore have to be initiated by her. But she will face opposition as the Tamil Nadu government wants to convert the Poes Garden house into a memorial. The OPS camp has also been demanding this. If this happens, Sasikala’s control on the property will end.
Party insiders say the media and the OPS camp will expose more complex matters related to Jayalalithaa’s properties in the weeks to come.
Interesting days are clearly ahead for Tamil Nadu politics.
Image: Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi K Palaniswami with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist in New Delhi who has been reporting on Tamil Nadu affairs for decades.