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'It won't be easy for Sasikala to take over the AIADMK'

By Shobha Warrier
December 09, 2016 07:59 IST
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Sasikala Natarajan at her 'akka' J Jayalalithaa's side.

'Sasikala definitely has an emotional advantage over the others, but there are very seasoned politicians with a strong support base.'
'For the time being, they may toe her line.'

Dr P Sudarshan, an associate professor at the department of humanities and social sciences, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, spoke to's Shobha Warrier about Tamil Nadu after J Jayalalithaa's death.

We saw Sasikala Natarajan and her family next to the late chief minister's body throughout the day of the funeral.
Does that mean Sasikala has taken over the reins of the party?
Or do you see other senior leaders staking a claim soon?

Sasikala definitely has an emotional advantage over the others, but there are also very seasoned politicians with a strong support base in their areas.

For example, a person like O Paneerselvam has his support base and network among party men.

K A Sengottaiyan might not have been in Jayalalithaa's good books, but he is a very powerful leader in the Kongu region.

These people are in the party from the days of M G Ramachandran, even before Jayalalithaa joined the party.

So I don't think Sasikala will find it easy to take over the party.

For the time being, they may toe her line.

Paneerselvam's understated nature may be an advantage for him.

People may look at him more as an enigmatic figure. If he plays his cards well, he could emerge as a strong leader.

Because the AIADMK came to power only six months ago...

That is one of the reasons for them to stick together now but there will be realignments for sure.

But then Sasikala was close to the power centre and knows about the party finances, etc.

In fact, Jayalalithaa's hold over the party had lessened in the last couple of years because of her health problems.

It is said that Sasikala decided the candidates for the 2014 and 2016 elections, and most of the MPs and MLAs owe their allegiance to her.
Does that not make her more powerful right now?

Definitely. It is widely believed that she was the person who chose the candidates.

In fact, in the 2011 elections, there was a huge controversy regarding the list of candidates. Jayalalithaa had to intervene and withdraw the list.

She herself conducted the negotiations for the alliance later on. So the accusation against Sasikala was made in 2011 also.

In 2016, we didn't see much change in the list of the candidates.

I also will not say it was a very convincing victory of the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) in the 2016 assembly elections.

The margin between the AIADMK and the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) at several places was around 1,000 votes or so.

For how long will Sasikala be able to control the party which has many seniors in it?

She will not be able to for a long time.

We also cannot forget the cases in which not only Jayalalithaa but Sasikala also is a part of.

Was Sasikala showing her strength to the party by having her family members on the dais (at the Rajaji Hall where Jayalalithaa's body was kept for the public to bid goodbye to their Amma), some of whom were thrown out by Jayalalithaa like Sasikala's husband?

Sasikala and Jayalalithaa were together for more than 30 years, and the fights they had were like the fights we see within any family.

Natarajan, though, was not allowed inside Jayalalithaa's home. But he was very much part of the play for quite some time.

He is a veteran political operator. I have a feeling he might play a more important role hereafter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sasikala Natarajan with Jayalalitha's body

Will the party survive after Jayalalithaa because she did not allow any second rung leaders to come up?

This way, it has its own advantages and disadvantages.

There are some second rung leaders in the party, senior people with a strong base.

If they get together and decide on a consensual rule, then the government will continue.

Tamil Nadu has a strong IAS and IPS cadre and they will take care of the administration.

The question is: What will be the vision for the state?

In the last two years, we saw the government drifting aimlessly maybe because of Jayalalithaa's ill health.

Do you think the DMK will exploit this situation to attract some disillusioned AIADMK leaders to its side?

Certainly, there will be attempts, but the code of conduct by the Election Commission is also there.

I feel they (the DMK) would prefer to see the AIADMK collapse on its own.

There is also talk that the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will take advantage to establish itself in Tamil Nadu.

They also may prefer a wait and watch approach.

My opinion is that their presence is very poor in Tamil Nadu and they have no strong leaders or cadre base here. They have not developed any youth leaders too.

Other than the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) doing some work here and there, the BJP has no cadre here.

Tamil Nadu is a strong Dravidian state and people do not like the State interfering in their religion.

What do you think the Congress is planning to do here? Rahul Gandhi visiting Jayalalithaa in the hospital and not calling on M Karunanidhi, it is said, irked DMK leaders.

Perhaps Rahul Gandhi is trying to bargain if an election comes soon.

Whatever you say, the Congress is in a better position in Tamil Nadu than the BJP though all the top Congress leaders have done nothing for the state and the party.

They tried to promote their sons and daughters.

How different were MGR and Jayalalithaa?

Jayalalithaa was a more authoritarian leader than MGR.

MGR cultivated a lot of second rung leaders who could have taken over his mantle. She did not, but created the Amma brand.

If MGR converted his fan base into party cadres, she did much better with women voters.

Like Jayalalithaa used MGR to grow in politics, do you think the AIADMK leaders will use Brand Amma for their survival?

Definitely, they will open more Amma canteens and have many more things under the Amma brand.

They are all populistic welfare measures and no other party will oppose it.

During the 2016 election, we saw M K Stalin emerge from his father Karunandihi's shadow.
Will we see Stalin emerge as the strongest leader in Tamil Nadu?

I feel he has already emerged as a strong leader in the last elections.

They (the DMK) lost because of poor planning.

More than one-and-a-half crore (15 million) voters are young people and Karunanidhi is not a leader for the Generation Next.

Even Stalin is 65 years old, but the youngsters accept him as he speaks their language and also presents himself well.

The disadvantages the DMK has are its poor record in law and order. Also, even at the lowest level, the party follows dynastic politics.

Other than the Communists and the BJP, the DMK was the only party that had some discipline and democracy.

But in the last 10, 15 years, nepotism and dynastic politics have taken over not only in the DMK's central leadership, but at every level.

This has weakened the party and that was why they lost this time.

How will Jayalalithaa be remembered?

She leaves behind a mixed legacy.

She will be remembered as a leader who touched the hearts of poor people.

She was an autocrat. She had stopped talking to the media and was brusque with her opponents.

She was not a soft politician and did what she wanted to do.

Yes, she was an excellent administrator, very decisive and well prepared all the time.

She will be remembered for her populist measures and managing law and order in the state.

There are many excesses when you think of her, but people will forgive her excesses and corruption.

The feeling among the people is: Who is not corrupt in politics?

IMAGES: TOP: Sasikala Natarajan at her 'akka' J Jayalalithaa's side.
BOTTOM: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sasikala at the late chief minister's lying in state.

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