5 Reasons Sasikala Becoming AIADMK General Secretary Is Dangerous
The chorus for Sasikala Natarajan to become the most influential and powerful person in Tamil Nadu grew louder after Jayalalithaa’s death. Although the ‘groundswell’ for Chinnamma to take forward the legacy of Amma seems to have been engineered by her family and supporters, there is little doubt the political engineering is aimed at creating a conducive atmosphere for her to take over the party and the government. Now, she is officially AIADMK’s General Secretary.
It is no doubt too early for Sasikala to become the Chief Minister. It is very uncertain, and some believe even unlikely, that she would take over.
The situation in Tamil Nadu has worsened in the past few years. Businesses are failing, government schemes becoming less effective. Through the Jayalalithaa years, the different arms of the states saw their freedom stunted, and a single-window system created for decision-making. That coupled with Jayalalithaa’s journey in and out of jail, there was an atmosphere of policy uncertainty and fear. With Jayalalithaa gone and Karunanidhi too ill, the state of Tamil Nadu needs leadership, which reaffirms its Dravidian roots, protects federal interests and promises long-term stability.
At the moment, Sasikala is perhaps the only person in Tamil Nadu who can maintain stability. But that does not mean that her ascent to power – as both the General Secretary of the AIADMK and CM of Tamil Nadu – is not fraught with dangers to democracy, and they need to be brought to attention before it is too late.
1. Government Inexperience
Sasikala has always been a back-room operator. She is often credited with having been the backbone of Jayalalithaa’s body of power, but it was usually limited to protecting her interests and running the backchannels. She was always Jayalalithaa’s shadow. She has neither been elected nor has been a public campaigner. She has no experience in dealing with officials and politicians through official channels, where processes and protocol matter, not just loyalty. Understanding the nitty-gritties of government comes with holding official posts over a period of time, and she hasn’t.
2. The DA Case and Taint of Corruption
She still stands accused in the Disproportionate Assets (DA) case, and in the past, she has even talked about taking all the blame to herself to protect Jayalalithaa in the case. With the Supreme Court still seized of the matter and set to pronounce the final verdict, the uncertainty over her freedom is an even bigger concern for the state. Do we want another leader over whom the sword of incarceration hangs?
Further, the larger taint of having been seen as operationalising the corruption under the Jayalalithaa regime would continue to encourage an atmosphere of plunder in the state.
Jayalalithaa was notorious for being opaque, maintaining a shroud of secrecy over what happens in Fort St George and Poes Garden. In her death is an opportunity for the people of the state to look towards a leader who is more accessible, takes decisions with transparency and is open to criticism and questioning.
Sasikala is highly likely to go the Jayalalithaa way, perhaps worse. Having seen the advantage of zero communication from close quarters, an iron curtain will continue to cover the government affairs of Tamil Nadu.
4. The Mannargudi Family
With her family in tow, a Sasikala government is likely to be a heady mix of Jayalalithaa-style authoritarianism and DMK-style family-driven plunder.
If Jayalalithaa’s funeral is anything to go by, the Sasikala family will be all over the government and the party. They have already penetrated every layer of the government machinery, but the fear of Jayalalithaa’s iron hand landing on their heads was alive. But with her gone, they could end up plundering with impunity, fearless of consequences, as the godmother of the family is the CM.
5. Handling the BJP and the Centre
Compared to other states, Tamil Nadu has always stood up to the tyranny of Delhi politicians and fended off any efforts to threaten the rights of the state. From the Cauvery river-sharing issue to speaking up for fishermen in south Tamil Nadu, the strong leadership of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi has led the state’s way. Can Sasikala stand strong and make the case for Tamil Nadu in the national forum?
Further, with the DA case verdict pending and no popular appeal, she is vulnerable to attacks from the Centre. It is evident from some recent statements of BJP leaders, that ‘OPS is a good CM’, that Sasikala is not favoured by the BJP, and the entire state of Tamil Nadu could bear the brunt of the blowback to her ascension. Sasikala will be unable to withstand the pressure and protect the interests of Tamil Nadu.
Lastly, there are also concerns of a battle breaking out on caste lines, with Sasikala being widely assumed to also represent her community’s interests.
But despite all of this, there is one question which could possibly render all the above concerns meaningless: Is there anyone in the state who could then lead Tamil Nadu under the present dispensation?
(This article was originally published on 21 December, in an arrangement with The News Minute. It has been slightly edited following Sasikala’s appointment as AIADMK’s General Secretary.)
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