Chennai/Bengaluru: A sea change is taking place in the politics of Tamil Nadu with new—though not entirely unfamiliar—faces preparing to take centre-stage in the state’s two main Dravidian parties.
The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have for decades been led by J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, respectively. The former passed away on 5 December while the ailing, 92-year-old Karunanidhi may soon have to pass the baton to his son M.K. Stalin.
Senior leaders of the AIADMK are queuing outside Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence to urge N. Sasikala—her close friend and confidante—to take up the top post of the party, that of the general secretary.
The trouble is Sasikala has never held any position in the party—if anything, she was expelled from its executive council along with her relatives in December 2011.
Both posts of head of government and party were occupied by Jayalalithaa. Though staunch Jayalalithaa loyalist O. Pannerselvam took charge as chief minister in less than two hours of her demise, the general secretary’s post remains vacant. It is crucial to fill in order to retain the party’s hold and give it direction in the remaining four-and-a-half years of the government’s term.
“Chinnamma (Sasikala) has been with Amma through thick and thin. Right now, she is the one who can lead the party,” said Avadi Kumar, a spokesperson of AIADMK.
Supporters of the DMK are waiting for its high command to finally announce the elevation of Stalin. While Stalin’s promotion was expected at the general council meeting on 20 December, it now stands indefinitely postponed due to Karunanidhi’s hospitalization.
Karunanidhi has not been seen in public after he developed drug allergy on 25 October. In the last 15 days, he has been hospitalized for the second time and has undergone tracheostomy on Friday.
As the Tamil Nadu politics is going through a metamorphosis and the change of guard is inevitable to both the parties, things are not going to be same for Sasikala and Stalin.
Karunanidhi has often reiterated: “DMK is not Shankara Mutt to pass on the mantle to an heir apparent.” Though Stalin has always been considered the “obvious scion” by many DMK leaders, observers also say that Stalin has worked his way up the ladder.
“Karunanidhi had cleared the deck for Stalin both from outside and within the family. Stalin is better placed in the DMK than Pannerselvam in the AIADMK,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, senior fellow and director, Observer Research Foundation, a Chennai-based think tank.
Stalin, who has been in active politics for nearly 40 years, led the DMK’s year-long campaign in this year’s assembly election in May, narrowing the difference in vote share between his party and AIADMK to 1.1%, whereas in 2011, DMK had lost the second place to Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK).
Mint reported after the May election that the elevation of Stalin as the leader of opposition would mark a generational shift within the party, post its election defeat.
On the other hand, though Sasikala and her family’s influence in key decisions of the party has increased over the years, she lacks political experience and would find it difficult to take forward the cult that was built by the founder of AIADMK, M.G. Ramachandran and continued by Jayalalithaa, say analysts.
The AIADMK’s next leader will have the important task of keeping the party together, say analysts. “Sasikala and Pannerselvam have to learn to work together. If in the process, Sasikala starts to dominate the government and the chief minister, there could be a crisis,” added Sathiya Moorthy.