Considering that all sides to the game feel being targeted by the BJP-ruled Centre through taxmen and their ED/CBI counterparts, both factions may not rule out the possibility of patching up after a time, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Unprecedented income-tax raids on the family members of jailed AIADMK ‘general secretary’ V K Sasikala Natarajan and ‘deputy general secretary’ T T V Dinakaran, and their aides, followed now by Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s initiative to discuss governance issues with local state government officials in Coimbatore district, has the potential to set the clock back on political affairs in Tamil Nadu.
If nothing else, the tax raids across 180 locations and involving 1,800 officials have been criticised by almost all sections of the state’s polity barring the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and the EPS-OPS faction of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam governing the state.
Contrast this with the massive social media and public support for the Supreme Court’s verdict, sending Sasikala and kin to a Bengaluru prison for four years, and the picture is complete.
That case, as may be recalled, involved then chief minister and party supremo, Jayalalithaa, who was A-1 in the ‘disproportionate assets case’, but had to be removed from the list as she was dead by the time the SC pronounced the verdict.
If the number of suicides (put at a high 234, by the party) protesting Jayalalithaa’s conviction and sentencing by trial court judge Michael de Cunha were/are any indication, party cadres may not like the raids on her Kodanad estate residence in the Ooty hills, her Poes Garden residence annexe in Chennai, housing Jaya TV founded by her, and her long-time personal/political aide, S Poongundran.
It is another matter that common cadres that feel hurt by the post mortem ‘insult’ heaped on ‘Amma’, are happier for the Centre finally putting the Sasikala clan in its place.
But then the cadre mood is equally wobbly while evaluating the leadership qualities of the present team, especially Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy (EPS), and to a much lesser extent of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS).
The general perception is that those that did not have the courage to send raiding parties to the same people and places when Amma was around, even if lying semi-conscious or worse in hospital, for 75 days, were now emboldened to do so under EPS-OPS care.
The drift of the argument is such that all those second-line leaders who had been raided already or could expect taxmen knocking at their doors, cannot also expect the EPS-OPS duo to stand up.
In comparison, ironically, there is an increase in ‘respect’ for Dinakaran, who did not tire of going before TV news cameras through the five-day long searches, to declare that the family had seen worse days and would not be perturbed.
If anything, Dinakaran was the first one to describe the tax raids as ‘political vendetta’. The government faction, despite the presence of many loud-mouth second-line leaders and ministers from within, has been maintaining stoic silence despite their known antipathy to the Sasikala clan, Dinakaran in particular, in the months after Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, 2016.
Both factions of the AIADMK are waiting for the Election Commission to pronounce its verdict on the long drawn-out ‘symbol’ issue. Whoever loses can be expected to go to the Supreme Court.
Should the EC rule that the symbol could not go to either side, at least for now, then they may both go on to fight the much-delayed R K Nagar assembly by-election on their own with a new symbol, as they had done before the EC cancelled the polls alleging ‘corrupt practices’ of an unprecedented scale.
Ironically, the EPS faction within the current ruling group was with the present-day rival Sasikala team during the first round by-poll, with Dinakaran as their candidate.
Documents recovered during tax raids at the height of the by-poll campaign showed that at least 10 top leaders, including EPS, were involved in pooling up to Rs 80 crores for ‘vote-buying’ on Dinakaran’s behalf.
The EC based its decision on poll cancellation only on the taxman’s reports, and also directed the state police to launch criminal investigations in the matter. Nothing has moved on that score, thus far.
Yet, there is no denying EPS firming up his control over the state administration. For long since he came to power, official photographs have been showing him sitting at his table for any meeting with foreign delegates and the rest, with all his ministers ‘pinned’ to the wall-side, as during Jayalalithaa’s time.
In the interim, when OPS became chief minister for a third term, he presented himself as more conciliatory, both in ministerial meetings, and in photographs and public functions.
Even while waiting for the EC to pronounce its verdict on the party symbol, both factions may not rule out the possibility of patching up after a time, before or after the R K Nagar by-poll, considering that all sides to the game feel being targeted by the BJP-ruled Centre through taxmen and their ED/CBI counterparts, one way or the other.
A lot would depend on the BJP’s electoral fate in upcoming assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Rather, the timing could well be as much.
Otherwise, too, any negative cadre mood against the leadership’s visible weakening before the central leadership after Amma had stood firm and tall against them all through 25 long years of her stewardship, could set all AIADMK factions thinking.
That could also be when the BJP strategists, nearer home in Tamil Nadu and at the Centre, may be forced to take back their own words and deeds of the present, if they feel that working with the AIADMK may be good for the NDA’s electoral health ahead of the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, or even afterwards.
It is against this background that Governor Purohit’s otherwise constitutionally valid initiative to meet with district administration in Coimbatore needs to be viewed.
Though Tamil Nadu minister S P Velumani has found nothing wrong with the governor meeting the officials directly, opposition parties in the state have seen it as an infringement on ‘state autonomy’, dear to all of them, barring of course the BJP and the Congress.
A section of the AIADMK is apprehensive that Purohit’s decision to visit all districts and hold such meetings may be preparatory to the dismissal of the state government, and for the governor to give an efficient administration during the period to give an electoral advantage to the BJP, however limited.
Whatever be Purohit’s intention, whatever be the Centre’s initiative to streamline state administrations, where they are seen as falling before standards, the recent ‘interferences’ by Lt Governor Kiran Bedi in Puducherry and successive counterparts in AAP-ruled Delhi, have all left a bad taste in Tamil Nadu, where ‘state autonomy’ has been a byword even since the Dravidian parties came to power 50 years ago.
Before the DMK came to power, a strong Congress chief minister in K Kamaraj was treated with respect by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Purohit starts on this front with an inherent disadvantage after predecessor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, acting governor for over a year, made himself controversial, all-round.
Even without it, AIADMK chief ministers Jayalalithaa and mentor MGR had treated the office of the governor with scant respect. MGR did so silently, while Jayalalithaa was more forthright.
During Jaya’s first term as chief minister, AIADMK cadres gheraoed then governor M Channa Reddy’s motorcade on a narrow, busy stretch of the national highway at Tindivanam, for five or six hours, no questions asked.
Jaya herself told the state assembly, on record, that Governor Reddy tried to misbehave with her as a woman when she called on him at the Chennai Raj Bhavan.
In comparison, the DMK as a party had stopped with declaring that the post of governor was unwanted under the Indian scheme. Yet, both party founder C N Annadurai and successor chief minister M Karunanidhi continued to hold -- and they did so do -- that as long as the office remained under the Constitution, they would confer all due respect due to it.
It is another matter that Karunanidhi as chief minister stood to benefit from the governor’s office, politically.
When the Karunanidhi government was dismissed by the Indira Gandhi-led Centre during the Emergency, then Governor K K Shah used to be dubbed ‘Kalaignar Karunanidhi’ Shah by those critical of both.
Later, when the Chandra Shekhar government dismissed another Karunanidhi-led DMK government in 1991, then governor, the late Surjit Singh Barnala, refused to send in the report under Article 356 to facilitate the dismissal.
An ingenious Centre, with then Union Law Minister Subramanian Swamy guiding the decision, used the ‘otherwise’ clause under Article 356 to have the Karunanidhi government removed.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.