Cockfight: Sasikala vs Panneerselvam!

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Kuldip Nayar, in the Statesman, Kolkotta,February 9, 2017

(Note: The cock-fight in Chennai now is between Panneerselvam and Sasikala, the latter a bête noire in public eye and the other, a man approved or “an affable man” due to his spotless attachment to Jayalalitaa whom he still worships as his visible God. And the eyes of whole Tamilnadu are riveted on every smart move Panneer is making to hear the shout “advantage OP”.

With so many recent revelations — both Panneerselvam and Joya’s niece  were always blocked by Sasikala to visit the ailing CM at the hospital; Sasikala herself was admitted entry into Poise Garden after her expulsion more than once only after a  written assurance given, that she had no political ambitions; a disproportionate asset case-Democles sword is about to fall anytime soon on Sasikala  —  the public mood is set totally against Sasikala’s greed for power and pelf so manifest by now for all general public.

No doubt Sasikla is a force to reckon with – with all her capacity for intrigue, deceit and Mannargudi mafia to lend support. Equally so is Panneerselvam with a clean sheet of his unsullied service to his Godess Jaya. Though none can predict the outcome of this cock fight the advantage seems to be all for Panneerselvam until the ship of Tamilnadu regains its equilibrium to resume its cruise ahead in a tempest free ocean. james kottoor, editor)

Politics in the South is no different from that of the North. The personality cult dominates in both. People go mad over leaders they prefer and even go to the extent of self-immolating themselves in frenzy.

VK Sasikala in Tamil Nadu has become such a figure having been a close aide of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Today, she is the general secretary of the AIADMK and the party has elected her as the leader of its legislative wing. The outgoing chief minister O. Panneerselvam was asked to put in his resignation. He was not even present where the decision was taken.

But the sudden turn of events in Tamil Nadu has sent everyone into a tizzy. Panneerselvam, close confidant of deceased chief minister J Jayalalitha, has come out strongly against Sasikala, accusing her of trying to usurp power. The swearing-in ceremony, which was to be held on Tuesday, seems to have been put off for the moment as the governor, apparently at the instance of the Union Home Ministry, is dragging his feet.

Even otherwise, this is not the opportune moment for a change of guard in the state as a verdict in the disproportionate assets case against Sasikala and her mentor Jayalalithaa is awaited. The apex court has already indicated that judgment will be delivered within a week. Whether she wins or loses, her stock is already waning.

As for Sasikala, she had been a long-standing friend of the former chief minister and by virtue of being close to Jayalalitha she wielded enormous power. But she was never nominated by her as successor. Sasikala’s claim to fame can be attributed to the proximity with Jayalalitha. There were occasions when even the former chief minister was so annoyed with her friend that she choose to keep her away.

Considered part of the Mannargudi mafia, Sasikala rubbed people on the wrong side which had on occasions embarrassed Jayalalitha. M. Natarajan, Sasikala’s husband, was seen to be behind what she did and ultimately he was sidelined not only by Jayalalitha but also Sasikala. It is an open secret how Sasikala rose to accumulate so much wealth and was convicted, along with the former chief minister by the special court.

Whenever Jayalalitha was either in jail or during her brief period of wilderness owing to cases in the court, it was Panneerselvam on whom she depended and even foisted him on the chief minister’s gaddi. And, as a loyal party worker, he had kept the seat warm all the time and vacated it when she returned.

Not only that, Pannerselvam revered Jayalalitha so much that he would never sit on the chair which she occupied and instead would have another chair to sit. He had her photo in his chamber apart from the one he always carried in his pocket to express his blind loyalty to her. He became so dependable that every time there was a problem, Jayalalitha chose him as the ‘caretaker’ chief minister.

Indeed, Jayalalitha was so tall that nobody else came anywhere near her. This was like Jawaharlal Nehru who, like a banyan tree, did not allow any other plant to grow. She singlehandedly carried the party and her government despite a strong opponent like the DMK with patriarch M. Karunanidhi still in the party chair.

The ruling BJP at the Centre has very little following of its own in Tamil Nadu because it is considered a party of the North. In the last Lok Sabha election, the BJP won only one seat as compared to 37 by AIADMK. The current turmoil in the state is an ideal situation for the BJP to make inroads but the 37 AIADMK Lok Sabha members are crucial for it to get a bill or motion passed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy seems to be of keeping a close watch. Maybe, the Supreme Court verdict against Sasikala would end the speculation one way or the other. However, it will be the BJP's endeavour to register its presence in the state. Sasikala’s husband, Natarajan being in confabulations with Congress leaders may also have triggered BJP president Amit Shah to take stock of the situation. He is said to be in favour of Panneerselvam, an affable man. The party hopes to ride on his shoulders to make a future presence in Tamil Nadu.

What seems to be going in favour of Panneerselvam is the public mood against Sasikala who was blamed for not allowing Jayalalitha’s niece to visit her ailing aunt. The niece has already formed a party and has threatened to divulge several secrets soon. People, however, resent all this because of Sasikala’s antics to rise to the place where she is today.

All this is familiar in politics of the North. Nehru wanted his daughter Indira Gandhi to be his successor. But Lal Bahadur Shastri was too popular to be ignored. Therefore, then Congress president K. Kamaraj settled the matter when he announced that it would be Shastri first and Indira Gandhi later. Morarji Desai never accepted that and was the first to throw his hat in the ring after Nehru’s death.

Indira Gandhi preferred to split the party than to accept Desai. She even sidelined Kamaraj after he had put her in the gaddi. Learning from the experience, she combined the posts of Prime Ministership and party president. In the same way, the split in the AIADMK ranks seems imminent even though it is stage managed. The legislature members want Sasikala to be both party general secretary and the chief minister.

How this entire drama would unfold is difficult to say. But one thing certain is that Sasikala is a force to reckon with. So is Panneerselvam. Fortunately for the latter, the public is behind him. At least that is what it looks like at this juncture. However, the fate of Sasikala hinges on the court verdict. Sasikala is no Jayalalitha and DMK is waiting in the wings.(The writer is noted journalist, columnist and commentator)

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