“This is a crucial election for all of us… if we win this election, no power can shake the AIADMK,” thundered Tamil Nadu chief minister E Palanisamy on Thursday morning, about 12 hours after ‘Chinnamma’ VK Sasikala announced that she would retire from politics.
Palanisamy was addressing party functionaries at a meeting convened to select candidates for the assembly elections slated for April 6.
Sasikala’s surprise announcement — after holding a 23-hour rally from Bengaluru to Chennai just a month back — created ripples in the state headed for elections.
Just about 10 days ago, she and her nephew TTV Dinakaran, who has formed the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), revived an old case in a civil court staking claim to the leadership of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
In the 2017 civil suit, they claimed that chief minister Palanisamy, or EPS, and his deputy O Panneerselvam, or OPS, appointed themselves as the party’s coordinator and co-coordinator and bypassed rules set by former CM J Jayalalithaa, the charismatic late leader of the AIADMK.
Sasikala’s surprise announcement, hence, caught watchers by surprise. It raised questions on what prompted the move and whether it was for keeps. For long, it was feared that her mere presence in Tamil Nadu could split the AIADMK’s vote bank significantly in 60-70 of the state’s 234 seats. However, the party leadership can now heave a sigh of relief and focus on putting up a united front against the opposition alliance.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is an ally of the AIADMK, had been trying to broker a truce between the EPS-OPS and Sasikala factions. It welcomed Sasikala’s decision.
“…our party welcomes her decision…Amma (Jayalalithaa) always dreamt of a strong, united AIADMK…(she) wanted a prosperous Tamil Nadu and the defeat of the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). This (Sasikala’s move) will help fulfil Amma’s dreams,” BJP state incharge CT Ravi said.
The BJP’s response was seen with suspicion in the opposition camp. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), which is a DMK ally, hinted that Sasikala could have been forced to take such a decision.
“It’s natural that BJP welcomes this move. If they are welcoming it, then obviously they have a role (in it),” said Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary.
Speculation is rife over the future of Dinakaran’s AMMK. The developments came at a time when his party had just opened applications for prospective poll candidates. Over 1,000 candidates have already filed applications to seek party ticket for 234 constituencies. Though applications are open till March 10, Sasikala’s move may well end up in an exodus of the party cadre and ticket hopefuls.
All that Dinakaran told the media after his aunt’s announcement was: “I tried to convince her not to take the decision. However, she took the decision. She said this is right. I don’t speak for her…”
Dinakaran, who is the MLA from RK Nagar constituency (a seat that was represented by Jayalalithaa until her death), said his party will contest the election.
There is also speculation on whether Sasikala is actually “retiring” or just “stepping aside” till her next move.
“I think this decision of Sasikala is only until the elections. Anything that happens next in her political career will depend on the result of the election. If the AIADMK wins, it would be difficult to displace EPS in the foreseeable future…if the AIADMK loses, Sasikala is certainly back in the game,” said political analyst Sumanth C Raman.