WE in the Aryan belt of India are lucky. We are not subjected to the kind of melodrama that was recently witnessed in the matter of the succession to the Tamil throne.
When Jayalalitha passed away, leaving a comfortable majority in the Vidhan Sabha and a clearcut line of succession, one did not anticipate the kind of stage show that was to be witnessed. Old Paneerselvam was a tried and tested sycophant, trained to wag his tail when stroked. He was the ideal person who could be trusted with keeping a seat warm and to vacate it without demur. He had a pleasant smile and sported a large teeka on his forehead, thus appearing to be a goody goody person, with all the traits of an ardent devotee who would act his designated role as per the script with not a tremor in his large eyes.
Who would have thought that he was in reality a highly ambitious person with a career graph of his own. Poor Sasikala trusted him absolutely, with no doubts about his loyalty. He went along when the new General Secretary of AIDMK was to be elected. Sasikala was elected unani-mously and thought she was the natural heir to everything that Jaya had left behind—the party, the government, the mansion at Poes Gardens…the works!
The drama went according to script. Sasi wore a sari exactly like Jaya’s to her funeral. She was anointed the General Secretary and she established herself in the mansion as if she was the designated heir. Paneerselvam took over as CM with the clear understanding that he was only an interim appointee.
Little did Chinnamma realise what was brewing behind those large lustrous eyes and the teeka on the forehead. The cat was out of the bag when a DMK leader spilled the beans by loudly calling out to Paneerselvam that he need not worry, the DMK was solidly in support of him. Sasi caught the hint at once. There was obviously a conspiracy brewing and old Paneerselvam had sold out to the DMK. He would deceive her at the drop of a hat and would bring about her downfall sooner or later.
Sasikala would not have become Chinnamma, if she was not well versed in palace politics. In the normal course, Paneerselvam would have enjoyed his CMship for 7-8 months and would then yield place to her.
It was now clear that Paneerselvam was departing from the script. He had no intention of keeping the seat warm for Sasikala.
Two can play at the game of subterfuge and deception. Sasi decided on her countermoves and advanced her assumption of office as Chief Minister. Paneerselvam was asked to resign as Chief Minister right away, which he did. This departure from the script was obviously not discussed with Paneerselvam. He took it as a malicious act of aggression, and could see that Sasi was not the baby-faced servitor of Jaya whom he had known all these years; she had fangs of her own and could be trusted to bite when aroused.
Suddenly, the script went awry and individual ambitions took over. Paneerselvam went to Jaya’s samadhi and had his famous metaphysical conversation with Jaya’s soul. He declared that Jaya had nominated him as her successor to the throne and he was the true heir to her legacy. He had been forced to resign under duress and should be permitted to take it back. Many people had represented to him that there was something fishy about Jaya’s death. As caretaker CM, he ordered an inquiry by a Judge. He more or less implicated Sasi in the whole affair.
Paneerselvam’s actions constituted a revolt against Chinnamma. HE stated that the party was with him. Most of the MLAs wanted him to continue as CM. There were legal infirmities in the election of Chinnamma as the General Secretary of the party. Some applications were filed with the Election Commission, which took cognisance and issued notices to the concerned parties.
Suddenly, Chinnamma felt the edifice she had so carefully erected starting to shake and crumble. Suppose the EC set aside her election; she would lose her pristine position as the boss of the party. Suppose the Judge declared her guilty of having furthered the demise of Jayalalitha. She could be hanged. Suppose Paneerselvam managed to corner all the MLAs and prevent her election as CM. She would then be a nobody.
She decided that her best bet was the MLAs. If she could invoke the holy name of Amma and remind them of her devoted service to Jaya for more than 33 years, if she could remind them that she had selected them as party candidates and given them munificent sums of money to win the elections; otherwise they would not be MLAs, they would stay by her side. And whatever old Paneerselvam did, MLAs held the key to this power game.
So, she collected all 135 of them and housed them in a posh luxury hotel. There was unobtrusive security around them. Ostensibly, they were free birds, but they were held together by invisible bonds of camaraderie. Chinnamma could hold on to 123 of them till the last. Paneerselvam tried his utmost to wean away the MLAs from Chinnamma through various incentives, but to no avail.
The BJP tried to use the Governor in the power game. Despite the clearcut majority held by Chinnamma, he refused to call her to form a government. To her bad luck, the Supreme Court reversed the High Court’s ruling in the disproportionate assets case. Chinnamma was sent to jail. Now, thought Paneerselvam, the MLAs would forsake Chinnamma. But to his utter discomfiture, there was no flood of defections. The MLAs stood firmly by Sasikala’s side.
Sasikala made her countermoves with extraordinary swiftness. She anointed her nephew Dinakaran as Deputy General Secretary of the Party so that she would retain her stranglehold on the party machine through him, even when she was in jail. She nominated Palanisami as the leader of the parliamentary party, so that he could take over as the Chief Minister for the time being.
With the MLAs standing firmly in her support, the Governor found it difficult to play Paneerselvam’s game. He was forced to swear in Palanisami as the Chief Minister and give him some time to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The DMK, which was till then pretending that it was an internal party matter of the AIDMK, now came out into the open and tried to pressurise the Speaker into some courses of action that would go against Sasi’s group. They tried to force a postponement of the floor test so that they got enough time to influence the MLAS. Failing that, they wanted a secret ballot as it was expected that a secret vote would be a conscience vote which would go in Paneerselvam’s favour.
The Speaker was a Sasikala appointee and remained loyal to her group despite all the provocations. The DMK legislators turned violent. In the scuffle, both the Speaker and Stalin alleged that their clothes had been torn, ostensibly by the other. The Speaker refused to be deflected from his course, went for a division and declared that the vote of confidence had been passed in Palanisami’s favour.
THERE the matter rests at the moment. But looking at past history and the game of thrones as it is played in Tamil Nadu, the scenario promises to be as exciting as it has been in the past few weeks.
Some things that can happen are:
- Amma schemes will be announced to commemorate her memory and prove Chinnamma’s loyalty to her.
- A life-size statue of Amma will be erected in a prominent place. Better still, statues of MGR and Amma may be erected in the ocean, off Marina beach.
- The Constitution of the AIDMK may be rewritten so as to validate Chinnamma’s ascension to the general secretaryship of the party.
- Chinnamma may try to negotiate the result of her disproportionate assets case in lieu of her support to the BJP in the Presidential election.
- Best of all, Chinnamma may be able to produce a properly drafted will by which Poes Garden and all other assets standing in Amma’s name will be shown as having been bequeathed to Chinnamma.
If Chinnamma can produce this rabbit out of her hat, then her victory will be sweet and complete and she can rule the State of Tamil Nadu for at least a quarter century.
MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India. (The views expressed are those of the columnist.)