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'Rajni is a clever businessman, not a politician'

By Shobha Warrier/
October 01, 2014 16:52 IST
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Rajinikanth and Narendra Modi. Photograph: Babu/Reuters'Whenever a new film of his releases, he uses politics to hype his film.'

'Her party can manage for a short period without Jayalalithaa as the chief minister but if her absence is for a long term, the AIADMK will start crumbling and disintegrating.'

'What keeps the DMK going despite its corrupt image is it is a democratic party in comparison to the AIADMK... Also, many social welfare measures in Tamil Nadu were brought in by the DMK. So they do have a place in the political scene despite corruption.'

Gnani Sankaran, the well-known political analyst, discusses the fallout of Jayalalithaa's conviction on Tamil Nadu politics with Shobha Warrier/

J Jayalalithaa's conviction on Saturday, September 27, in the disproportionate assets case has seen Tamil Nadu in turmoil. Her All India Anna Dravida Munneta Kazhagam members are in a state of shock. Though the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam filed the case, DMK chief M Karunanidhi has not yet issued a statement on the verdict.

In what way will Jayalalithaa's conviction change Tamil Nadu politics? Gnani Sankaran, well-known political analyst, below, discusses the aftermath with Shobha Warrier/

What kind of impact will Jayalalithaa's conviction have on Tamil Nadu politics?

Some ramifications are immediate and some, long-term.

The immediate impact is that she has to run the government by proxy. In all probability, she will get bail soon. Once she gets bail, she may be permitted to leave Bangalore and stay in Chennai. They may give a stipulation that she is not allowed to travel and has to stay put in Chennai.

That means, like in 2001, she would rule from her Poes Garden bungalow...

Yes, her successor O Paneerselvam would go there in the morning and evening and what we saw in 2001 would continue. Last time, it was only for six months, but this time, it may go on for longer.

You have assembly elections in two years and much depends on what the high court judgment is.

As there is no AIADMK without Jayalalithaa, if she is not acquitted, do you think the party will disintegrate?

Her party can manage for a short period without her as the chief minister, but if her absence is for a long term, the party will start crumbling and disintegrating. Somebody from the party may start asserting himself as a leader.

Do you expect that to happen in the AIADMK? There is no number 2 or 3 or 4 in the party.

Over a period of time, it can happen. For example, somebody like R Natarajan, (Jayalalithaa's companion) Sasikala's husband, has a vested interest and he is not in jail. He can be a rallying point and may start mobilising people to take over the party. Since he is Sasikala's husband, people may gravitate towards him.

At present, there is a lot of sympathy for her because of popular schemes like the Amma canteen, Amma idli, Amma salt, etc. In what way will this sympathy help the AIADMK in the assembly election?

You cannot say the sympathy she has would last another two years. Most of the sympathy you see now is manufactured. It may not work beyond a point.

In the next two months, the 2G cases may also come up and if A Raja and Kanimozhi are convicted, do you think this sympathy for Jayalalithaa will last?

People may say if every corrupt politician gets punished, it will be good for the country.

But in Tamil Nadu, politics is more emotional than logic...

It may be emotional, but it is cultivated and manipulated by the leaders. If the leaders are exposed and if they are not there to manipulate, emotions may change gradually. Yes, it will not happen dramatically.

This conviction is a huge blow for Jayalalithaa.

Yes, it is a big blow. It happened at a time when she has a good majority (in the Tamil Nadu assembly). Otherwise, people would have deserted her easily.

If she was very sure about winning the case -- like she was in the other 11 cases where she was acquitted -- she would not have done all the delaying tactics. This is the only case where she indulged in delaying tactics.

If she knew of acquittal, she would have pushed it and finished it in two years. Most probably, she knew she would be trapped. That was why she tried delaying it as far as possible. This is a very open and shut case.

How will this conviction dent her image?

The image of her as Amma who helps the poor is created by her party men. Outside her party, how many people consider her Amma? In fact, her image has more dents now that people will see the truth.

Sasikala Natarajan, left, with J JayalalithaaMany people believe it was more Sasikala and her family's doing than Jayalalithaa's. Do you think she was a puppet?

If she was a puppet, then what prevented her from getting out of their clutches later?

Even after 18 years, she continues to be with them. They are her extended family emotionally, it is as simple as that.

With Paneerselvam as chief minister, will we see more and more Amma schemes to keep her image alive?

He will definitely do it as they (AIADMK leaders) don't exist without the Amma brand. None of the party people exists without an Amma brand. They will perpetuate the Amma brand, hoping she will be acquitted by the higher court.

Will the DMK capitalise on this?

Definitely. Because what keeps the DMK going despite its corrupt image is it is a democratic party in comparison to the AIADMK. So it is easy for the party to keep its structure alive. It won't become scattered like the AIADMK.

Also, many of the social welfare measures in Tamil Nadu were brought in by the DMK. So they do have a place in the political scene despite corruption.

After Karunanidhi, do you think the DMK will stay as one?

Yes, it will with (Karunanidhi's younger son and political heir) M K Stalin as the head. Nearly 90 per cent of the party men would be behind him. Everybody saw that (Karunanidhi's elder son) M K Azhagiri's dissent did not work. It is exposed that he has no big clout within the party.

Do you see national parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress getting stronger in Tamil Nadu after this?

There is space for an alternative, but there are no forces to fill the vacuum. So by default, these two parties will continue to be there. The smaller Dravidian parties are clones or photocopies of these two parties.

The problem with the Congress and BJP is that they have a huge disconnect with the people. They have taken up national issues as against local issues. They have not been able to resolve issues with other states.

The BJP in Karnataka would take one stand and the BJP in Tamil Nadu takes another stand. The Congress in Kerala takes one stand and the Congress in Tamil Nadu takes another stand.

So unless they change their approach to local issues, both these parties will not be able to connect with the people. They need to have a strong local leadership too. Otherwise, they will not be able to fill the gap.

Does that mean no party will be able to capitalise on Jayalalithaa's conviction?

I can talk about an imaginary situation. Who are the leaders who can be an alternative to Karunanidhi, Jayalaitha and Stalin? I rule out Vijayakanth as his credibility is already low. (Pattal Makkal Kachchi leader Dr S) Ramdoss is highly casteist and corrupt.

Vaiko is the other person and he has a huge advantage compared to the others mainly because of his clean image. He is known to take up local issues and organise people. Vaiko's undoing happened because of his obsession with the Eelam issue.

If he keeps the Eelam issue on the back burner, and gets out of the BJP alliance, he can be an alternative.

The BJP alliance cost him more as the BJP is considered an anti-Dravidian, anti-Tamil and communal party. He can project himself as a clean Dravidian alternative. Other than him, there is nobody else.

If that happens, do you expect people from the DMK to join hands with Vaiko?

Not only from the DMK, people from the AIADMK also would join him. Vaiko was never known as anti-M G Ramachandran unlike Karunanidhi. If Vaiko plays his cards properly, he is one person who can benefit from the situation.

You don't see any political party other than the Dravidian parties dominating the political scene?

Not in the near future.

Will Rajnikanth enter politics to occupy the vacuum?

He won't. Whenever a new film of his releases, he uses politics to hype his film. He is a very clever businessman and not a politician.

In another 10 years, how do you see the political scene in Tamil Nadu?

Much depends on what comes out of this case, that is, whether the Supreme Court would acquit her or convict her. That is the crucial factor.

Top image: Rajinikanth and Narendra Modi. Photograph: Babu/Reuters.

Lower Image: Sasikala Natarajan, left, with J Jayalalithaa

Gnani Sankaran's photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Shobha Warrier/ in Chennai