The moment of reckoning has come for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami as V K Sasikala, the de facto chief minister in the late CM Jayalalithaa’s tenure in Tamil Nadu, who is all set to be freed shortly from the Bengaluru prison, has already cast a shadow on the ruling party with two leaders praising her within 24 hours.
Although, the TN CM has said that Sasikala’s return would not cause any problems for the ruling party, he must have been shaken up by two leaders from the party singing her praises, prompting party spokesman and minister D Jayakumar to come down heavily on them.
Expressing his disapproval over minister Rajendra Balaji and a former minister Gokula Indira praising Sasikala, Jayakumar reminded them that the party had closed its doors as far as Sasikala was concerned.
What emerges clearly from this episode is that there no takers for the CM’s statement that Sasikala’s return will not impact the party. After all, from the CM himself to the ministers and MLAs, all of them owe their position to Sasikala as she had hand-picked them at every stage in their career. Palaniswami was no more than an also-ran, and was just another faceless minister, with no hold in the party.
When Sasikala had to leave for prison after the trial court judgement against her and Jayalalithaa in the Disproportionate Assets case, she picked the low-key minister Palaniswami to head the government. She did this despite the availability of more suitable choices such as the senior minister K A Sengottaiyan.
All the ministers and party functionaries had then visited Poes Garden with the resolution, and unanimously elected Sasikala as the legislature party leader, so that she could take over as CM, following the demise of Jayalalithaa. Even senior ministers like Panneerselvam and others like Palaniswami prostrated at her feet, pleading with her to be the CM.
Sasikala, who was the pivot around whom the AIADMK party operated, would personally hand over funds to party functionaries and candidates for election campaigns. The ministers and MLAs could scarcely meet Jayalalithaa.
They could occasionally speak to her over the intercom at the Poes Garden residence, whenever the CM chose to. Otherwise, it was always Sasikala, who was ‘conveying’ (giving) instructions of ‘Amma’ to officials and partymen.
It, therefore, must be understood that Sasikala was not an aide of the CM but the CM and party general secretary rolled into one. Every single minister and MLA of the party has been a beneficiary of Sasikala’s patronage and backing. And so, when she is back in Chennai by the end of the month, it will be difficult to ignore her.
A courtesy call on Sasikala would be a must for most of them, though EPS would disapprove of it. Whether the courtesy calls would result in a more regular and meaningful exchange for them would depend on Sasikala. And, the way events will pan out in the days to come — whether she will opt to be a low-key party member or push for a resumption of powers and a return to the pre-2017 days.
Although Sasikala cannot contest elections for another six years as matters stand, there is no bar on her taking up a party post. Palaniswami’s desperation to push ahead with the campaign, though elections are just four months away, stems from the fear of Sasikala’s hold over the party members.
His early declaration as a CM candidate was clearly prompted by his keenness to prevent Sasikala from backing a different person for the post. Much as the CM denies Sasikala’s impact, all his moves in the last month or so, are clearly aimed at checking her influence.
When Panneerselvam remarked at a party meeting that Palaniswami had been nominated CM by Sasikala, EPS could not deny it. He merely countered by stating that everyone had been appointed by her. The question is whether the AIADMK functionaries can set aside their conscience and ignore her.
But, does conscience really matter in the real world of politics?