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Can Jaya's niece spoil Sasikala's party?

January 09, 2017 16:27 IST

If anyone is targeting Sasikala or the AIADMK, then they should be looking elsewhere, not at Deepa for leading a revolt successfully, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

After sending confusing and at times contradicting signals through the first month of then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s death, her niece Deepa Jayakumar Ganesh seems to be preparing for the long haul on the political front.

Thirty-three-year-old Deepa is definitely targeting Jaya’s one-time live-in confidant, V K Sasikala, who has since been made the ruling AIADMK general secretary -- but has maintained strategic, if not stoic silence, over the party-government in Tamil Nadu, of Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.

Through the past week, she has been appearing on the balcony of her T Nagar residence in one of the busiest middle-class localities in the city, and is waving to the waiting crowds once a day in the evening, and addressing them, too.

They are all said to be AIADMK cadres from different part of the state and belong to different age groups. Local media reports, citing individuals spotted in the crowd, have claimed that they are all AIADMK cadres, disgruntled by Sasikala’s ascension to the party throne.

Addressing them at around 5.30 in the evenings for two or three days in a row, Deepa, in her halting Tamil, though not as bad as Sasikala in her 25-minute TV appearance while taking over the party reins, repeated the questions that those cadres and a section of the media has been asking for weeks and months now.

In her brief and at times disjointed speeches, Deepa, daughter of Jayalalitha’s pre-deceased older brother Jayakumar, has been flagging suspicions about the circumstances under which her aunt had died, and the way in which the party elected Sasikala as AIADMK general secretary.

In the days immediately after Jaya’s death and those around the time Sasikala was elected party chief, Deepa had focussed entirely on how she was not allowed to meet with her dear aunt, when she was alive or was hospitalised.

She even distanced herself from ‘cadre-claims’ asking her to lead them, and dissociated from wall-posters with her picture, worded in the same vein.

Not anymore. Over the weekend, Deepa hinted to the audience outside her home about the possibility of her floating a forum/movement to take forward Jaya’s mission. She has indicated a start-up on January 17, birth centenary of AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran, or MGR, the political mentor of Jayalalithaa.

In between, seemingly separate groups have launched a ‘Deepa Peravai’ or forum in Chennai, and another has already launched an ‘MGR-Jaya ADMK’ party in the western turmeric town of Erode, with Deepa as their leader. Incidentally, it’s also in Erode that the first pro-Deepa posters began appearing, post-Jaya.

The Erode party-makers have already given their outfit a black-white-and red flag, but with MGR and Jaya pictures in the middle. It’s a takeoff from the AIADMK flag of the same colours, but with parent DMK founder, C N Annadurai in the middle.

Like the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol for the AIADMK, the ‘founders’ of the ‘new party’ have given themselves a ‘two roses’ symbol.

The party decision does not seem to have Deepa’s acceptance or approval, but neither has she distanced herself from the same, as was the case with early wall-posters carrying her picture.

A student of journalism who has since returned from the US, Deepa has also shifted gears from talking about ‘aththai’ (father’s sister) and their personal equations or lack of it, to the universal and ubiquitous ‘Amma’, or mother, as the party and the rest had referred to Jaya.

But will it all help Deepa take on Sasikala, or take over the AIADMK, as detractors of Sasikala, both within and outside the party, seem to believe or wanting to believe.

For starters, the Sasikala-led AIADMK already has almost all general council members unanimously electing her the party chief and popularising her reverential address ‘Chinna Amma’, deriving from the Jaya-given status as ‘soul-sister’ once.

The AIADMK is also possibly the only political party in the country, where founder MGR insisted that the party leader be elected by the cadres through a direct election.

No such election ever took place, as MGR, Jaya and even the former’s nominees in his time like veterans V R Nedunchezhiyan and S Ragavanandam, did not face any contest.

Obviously aware of the possibilities, AIADMK local leaders are believed to have launched a quiet signature campaign in their areas involving the primary party members under their care, backing the general council decision on Sasikala’s unanimous election.

Should a situation arise where the general council decision and Sasi’s election/selection are challenged before the Election Commission or in a court, then the verifiable signatures of the AIADMK’s 1.5-crore primary members, or those of a majority of them, might be produced for authentication.

More important and equally legal and logical questions arise on the possibilities of Deepa upstaging Sasikala as AIADMK leader. Some social media inputs have penned a likely picture if the Supreme Court were to convict Sasikala and two of her kin in the ‘wealth case’ where Jayalalithaa was the prime-accused.

Some argue that the SC Bench, which reserved the verdict six months ago, could dismiss the prosecuting Karnataka state’s appeal against the high court acquittal on merit, but not because A-1, who alone is a ‘public servant’ among the four accused, was dead, for the case under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA)to be rendered infructuous.

However, the argument also goes that any SC-ordered conviction of Sasikala might come in the way of her becoming chief minister, replacing incumbent Panneerselvam, but not lead to her automatic removal as party chief.

In a related development, if it could be called so, local media reports have indicated that CM Panneer might hoist the national flag and take the salute on the occasion of Republic Day this year, as acting governor C Vidyasagar Rao might be doing the honours in Maharashtra, which is his primary post.

With media speculation continuing that Sasikala might be made CM before that, the question arises if she would be doing the R-Day honours on the sands of the Marina, in the place of OPS.

As for as the AIADMK leadership is concerned, the basic question arises if Deepa, for instance, is a primary member of the AIADMK at present, for her to be ‘elected’ or ‘selected’ party chief even if a vacancy were to arise.

The big question before Deepa as a political leader (party or no party) would relate to the possibility of AIADMK cadres shunning MGR-Jaya’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, even if they have had reservations over the change or guard, or even on Jaya’s death.

Deepa resembles Jaya at first look, yes. Jaya too was as halting in her early public speeches from the AIADMK platforms. So has been Sasikala, since taking over. Despite her 30-plus years association with Jaya, her voice had not been heard in public, not certainly by the party cadre.

Compared even to Sasikala, who was managing all of Jaya’s affairs, including party matters, Deepa is still a political non-starter. In comparison, Jaya had been AIADMK propaganda secretary for about a decade before stepping into MGR’s shoes after his death.

That Sasi and Co was controlling the party machinery, often instructing AIADMK ministers in the state and the Centre, on affairs of the government, does not require much proof, either.

Deepa does not have any direct links to the second-line party leadership at any level, or to the cadres, at any time in the past.

If comparisons may have to be made between Sasikala and Deepa just now, it should take back to the Janaki-Jaya faction feud between MGR’s widow and political heir-apparent.

Jaya might not be a veteran politician or an AIADMK leader at the time. But between the two contenders for the party post, she had some years of experience, exposure and relative acceptance level.

Janaki MGR, another of MGR’s filmi heroines like Jaya decades later, had political experience of less than a week when the late leader’s one-time aides, disapproving of Jaya’s popularity and acceptance levels, propped her up.

Like all props Janaki had to fall by the political wayside after her faction came a cropper in the post-MGR assembly polls that the rival DMK won after 13 long years in 1989. Janki retired from politics at the same speed she entered while those that propped up her either surrendered to Jaya on her terms, or retired into political oblivion.

That way, if anyone is aiming at targeting the Sasikala leadership of the AIADMK, or the AIADMK as a party, then they should be looking elsewhere, not at Deepa for leading a revolt successfully.

That ‘anyone or someone’ is already in the party and has to be, so, too, whether or not he, she or they want to come out, or oppose Sasikala, is another matter altogether -- considering that she is possibly the only ‘unifying force’ after Jaya.

Whoever it is, it’s not going to happen without MGR-Jaya’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol for starters, however charismatic and convincing that he or she might be, or become one day.

The question would then arise if a political vacuum could be created if the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol gets frozen, as was the case in 1989 polls, and the cadre base ‘evaporates’? Again, Deepa may not be the candidate to help do so, as whoever has to do it has to challenge the leadership from within the party and not outside.

Image: A file photograph of Deepa.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

N Sathiya Moorthy