A carefully nurtured image of a pacifier and unifier alright, but Sasikala, once the de facto chief minister and AIADMK supremo, has to do much more than that if she should be accepted again in the AIADMK.
At the moment, the AIADMK’s top leadership thinks she will be of no use to the party, and it is better off without her. Therefore, Sasikala, who does not want to hint a confrontation, has to re-invent herself from a backroom manipulator to a visible crowd-puller if she has any future in the AIADMK.
On May 30 and 31, Sasikala indicated a return to active politics (predicted by thefederal.com) in audio leaks of her conversation with some supporters, promising that she would take care of the AIADMK.
Predictably, the AIADMK deputy coordinator of the AIADMK, K P Munuswamy, said Sasikala was no longer in the party and that there was no scope for her return. Former CM Edappadi Palaniswami had obviously chosen to reply to Sasikala through Munusamy as he was earlier an ardent supporter of O Panneerselvam but now closer to Palaniswami as they are bent on shutting the doors on Sasikala.
Sasikala’s nephew T T V Dinakaran has proved that he is of nuisance value, and that his party, the AMMK can do enough to damage the prospects of the parent organization. But with former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami preferring to lose an election rather than give up his self-imposed position of pre-eminence in the party, Sasikala has to prove she is more than a handful and capable of collateral damage if she is to emerge as a powerful player in Tamil Nadu politics.
Now that the elections are over, and she has gone by the instructions of her new masters to lie low, Sasikala has little option but to tour all districts of Tamil Nadu to retain her support base, and more importantly, expand it. Elections to urban local bodies are due as well as rural local bodies in nine new districts. This would be another challenge to the AIADMK as the ruling DMK would like to drive home the advantage secured in the April 6 Assembly elections. A bad performance of the AIADMK in these polls could spell danger to Palaniswami and co., and question marks would be raised against his leadership all over again.
On May 30 and 31, audio versions of her chat with some party men were released, revealing her strategy to “save” the party and that she would be back soon.
Ostensibly, her overt plan will be to spread the message of unity and strength, but she will have to look for lieutenants to carry on her work, especially in the south, central and northern districts of Tamil Nadu where Palaniswami and his set of casteist leaders from the west are is the weakest.
Sasikala may indirectly emerge as the focal point for dissenters who are aggrieved over the Gounder domination of the party which they feel resulted in loss of power. The casteist card played by Palaniswami in favour of a Vanniyar quota created a strong backlash in other parts of the State. Palaniswami turned a blind eye to these issues in the south and in the north, and perhaps felt that it was his rival O Panneerselvam would suffer and not he. Ultimately, Panneerselvam, to safeguard his position, threw out the baby with the dishwater.
The dissenters in the party do not have a powerful voice as OPS does not have enough MLAs to support him. In the new equation, the dissenters are looking for a new force to set the party and prevent the drift. They feel the party is going downhill with the casteist approach, and the party, which once claimed to be inclusive and a force for all sections of society, finds its base shrunk.
Sasikala is bereft of power that she once enjoyed due to the space provided to her by Jayalalithaa. Today, for her to be relevant, Sasikala has to derive her own power source, and prove her capability.
Therefore, we may now see a new Sasikala, trying to cash in on an emotional campaign using the name of Jayalalithaa. Palaniswami may not be able to prevent her campaign, but he may issue a directive to party personnel to avoid meeting her. A similar directive was jointly issued by EPS and OPS when she returned to Bengaluru prison before the elections. That may be the next phase of the cold war. However, this time OPS may not be a party to such a directive, as he is keen on accommodating Sasikala in the party.
The problem for OPS that most of his key supporters – Dr V Maitreyan, K P Munuswamy, J C D Prabhakaran and others – are opposed to Sasikala, having suffered due to her decisions in the united AIADMK. This leaves OPS with few options.
Sasikala cannot depend on OPS and has to charter her own course, and hope that she will gain enough that the party cannot ignore her. She has to create such a situation that EPS and co., would realize that they would be better off with Sasikala beside them rather than against them.
In the charade, the problem for Sasikala is that she cannot afford to be too aggressive.
The AIADMK may suffer once investigation begins into the plethora of complaints against the former ministers of the AIADMK rule, triggering an exodus from the party. Already, two former ministers are in the dock, Nilofer Kaleel and Manikandan, for different issues. This number will be on the rise in the months to come.
Shorn of power, Palaniswami will find it difficult to be a mass leader, leading the party in an opposition role. When the AIADMK is on the defensive, with several former ministers in the dock may be the moment when Sasikala could take firm and decisive steps.
Sasikala could prove to be a thorn in the flesh if she takes up in an earnest manner her petition in the court seeking to establish her status as “elected general secretary” of the AIADMK prior to her jail term. If there are rival claims for the name AIADMK and its leadership, as also its two-leaf symbol, Sasikala could make things difficult for Palaniswami.