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Whatever happens, Jaya will return to power in 2016

By T V R Shenoy
July 02, 2015 14:32 IST
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'The AIADMK has no Number Two, frankly it does not even have a Number Hundred and Two. There is the Numero Uno, and there is everybody else -- a point that was made very clear when Jayalalithaa made her ministers take the oath of office in unison on May 23.'

'What, after all, was the point of having them do so individually when they lack individuality?' asks T V R Shenoy.

Supporters venerate J Jayalalithaa

Night follows day and day follows night... DMK ministries take over from AIADMK ministries, and AIADMK ministries take over from DMK ministries... UDF regimes succeed LDF regimes, and LDF regimes succeed UDF regimes...

Benjamin Franklin said nothing in life was predictable except death and taxes; were he alive today he might have added '...and revolving door governments in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.'

In 1991 Kerala voted for the UDF and the AIADMK took over in Tamil Nadu.

In 1996 the LDF won power in Kerala and the DMK in Tamil Nadu.

In 2001 the UDF returned to power in Thiruvananthapuram and the AIADMK in Chennai.

In 2006 the LDF resumed the reins in Kerala and the DMK did so in Tamil Nadu.

In 2011 there was again a UDF chief minister in Thiruvananthapuram and an AIADMK chief minister in Chennai.

Come the assembly elections of 2016 -- due in May both in Tamil Nadu and in Kerala -- and it will be a quarter of a century since the two neighbours started marching together in this extraordinary lockstep.

Voters keep hoping that one of the two major groups in their respective areas will prove to be slightly less corrupt, slightly less inefficient, and slightly less arrogant -- and they keep having their hopes dashed.

Could 2016 be the year that the pattern is broken?

Prediction is a fool's game, but I think that Jayalalithaa is going to continue to rule her state even after 2016.

That doesn't mean she will still be chief minister. The Karnataka high court may have acquitted her, but Jayalalithaa still must meet a potential challenge in the Supreme Court. Should that go against her there is no way that she can resume office.

But the AIADMK is still better placed to win the 2016 assembly elections. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the AIADMK won 37 of Tamil Nadu's 39 seats, with its major rival, the DMK, drawing a complete blank.

The Congress was given an even more humiliating drubbing. It contested all 39 seats, lost its deposit in 38, and the BJP won the 39th (Kanyakumari).

Nothing suggests either the DMK or the Congress has regained lost ground. The struggle between DMK supremo M Karunanidhi's sons, Stalin and Azhagiri, becomes more bitter as the patriarch ages. (Karunanidhi celebrated his 91st birthday on June 3.)

The Congress is split into various factions; E V K S Elangovan and Karti Chidambaram (the former Union finance minister's son) snipe at each other publicly, while G K Vasan walked out of the party.

The 2016 elections are the AIADMK's to lose -- and if the party returns to power, the reins will be in Jayalalithaa's hands.

The AIADMK has no Number Two, frankly it does not even have a Number Hundred and Two. There is the Numero Uno, and there is everybody else -- a point that was made very clear when Jayalalithaa made her ministers take the oath of office in unison on May 23.

What, after all, was the point of having them do so individually when they lack individuality?

The DMK was in such disarray that it didn't even field a candidate against her in the R K Nagar by-election. And, for all practical purposes, it is also out of the contest come 2016.

Whether she is in Fort St George, or under house arrest in Poes Garden, or even in Bangalore jail, Jayalalithaa's writ will continue to run in Tamil Nadu. But what of Kerala?

The neighbours are marching together even when it comes to by-elections. The untimely death of G Karthikeyan, the late Speaker of the Kerala assembly, necessitated a by-election in Aruvikkara, also on June 27.

If the DMK's failure to name an opponent in R K Nagar speaks volumes so does the behaviour of the Congress and the CPI-M in Aruvikkara.

The Congress has fallen back on its old dictum of 'When in doubt, think dynastically!' Its candidate is K S Sabarinadhan, the late G Karthikeyan's son.

This is both poignant and ironic. Twenty years ago G Karthikeyan and Ramesh Chennithala were among those Congressmen who protested that the veteran K Karunakaran was pushing forward his son, K Muraleedharan. Today Chennithala, now Kerala's home minister, is party to a decision to give a ticket to a novice with no experience and no previous demonstrated interest in politics.

True to Congress tradition, the party's first choice was actually G Karthikeyan's wife, M T Sulekha. It was only after her refusal that the Congress decided to concentrate on persuading Sabarinadhan.

What of the faction-ridden CPI-M?

There is no love lost between V S Achuthanandan and local party boss Pinarayi Vijayan. The former is, arguably, the most popular politician in Kerala. But he is also 91 years old -- he turns 92 on October 23 this year -- and I really do not know if the CPI-M can project him as chief minister next year. Yet asking Pinarayi Vijayan to be the face of the campaign would be suicidal.

M Vijayakumar, the CPI-M nominee in the Aruvikkara by-election, is not a novice but was himself once Speaker of the Kerala assembly. No sooner was his candidature announced than he stated that the campaign would be headed by V S Achuthanandan. This, one assumes, was the considered political judgement of a veteran politician.

Pinarayi Vijayan might let that go in a single by-election. Can he allow that to happen in the assembly polls next year? Contrariwise, can a 92-year-old man be projected as a potential chief minister?

In 2016 it will be 25 years since Kerala and Tamil Nadu started marching through the revolving door. There is an excellent chance that Jayalalithaa will succeed in bringing her AIADMK back to power. There is an equally excellent chance that both the Congress and CPI-M will, through their own mistakes, yield the initiative to smaller parties.

The Congress had to prove that it could win an election on the basis of its achievements in office -- and it failed. The CPI-M had to prove that it could win an election without using V S Achuthanandan as its face -- and it failed.

Whatever happens in court, Jayalalithaa will return to power -- and she will deserve it. The Congress and CPI-M will lose power -- and they too deserve just that.

Image: All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supporters perform milk abhishekam on a poster of AIADMK General Secretary and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, in Madurai. Photograph: PTI.

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T V R Shenoy