Will Raids on Places Linked to Sasikala Have Their Desired Effect?
One look at the vehicles in which Income Tax officials arrived at locations around Chennai on Thursday, and everyone assumed the person who planned it must be a Chennai Super Kings fan.
In a whistlepodu-worthy idea, ‘Srini weds Mahi’ was printed on posters that were pasted on the windscreens of the 350-odd cars that had been hired in Chennai from Fast Track, a car rental agency. The I-T ‘baraat’ arrived at the designated locations soon after dawn.
Obviously, everyone assumed the marriage party look was done to ensure that the movement of 1,800 officials was not picked up by the Sasikala camp’s political intelligence.
However, contrary to what everyone believed, it was not an ingenious mind at work. According to people in the know, it just so happened that when the vehicles were requisitioned late night on Wednesday, they were taken from the pool of vehicles that had been part of the Srini-Mahi wedding arrangements.
He perhaps wanted the powers-that-be in Delhi to know that they had raided a gau rakshak. His Puducherry farmhouse was being raided, where he cheekily claimed the sleuths would only find bags of cowdung cakes.
The Financial Clout of Sasikala Faction
But the optics were only the side story. The real deal was the assault on the Mannargudi empire, that would have been unthinkable if Jayalalithaa was still around. The family was the real power during Jayalalithaa's reign, controlling both the politics and business deals in Tamil Nadu and raided only once before in 1996-97 when the AIADMK lost power.
It is not as if there have not been allegations of use of muscle power or financial impropriety against different firms owned by the Mannargudi family tree.
Jazz Cinemas, which was raided on Thursday, was alleged to have forcibly taken over Luxe Multiplex in Chennai that belonged to SPI Cinemas group in 2015.
Tamil Nadu BJP chief Tamilisai Soundrajan defended the I-T raids, partly because the man on the street suspected a BJP hand in it. It is an open secret that chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and party chief O Panneerselvam have New Delhi's blessings. Last month, their dairy development minister Rajendra Balaji sang Modi bhajan, publicly claiming that “Narendra Modi will take care of everything.”
Political Character of the Raid
Though strategically, the raids were conducted a day after the first anniversary of demonetisation to make it seem that those who had evaded tax were under the scanner, the profile of the targets gave away the political character of the raid. They were seen as political messaging to the 19 MLAs in the Dhinakaran camp who are still standing by his side, despite being suspended by the Speaker.
It is also being construed as an attempt to scare the 8 to 10-odd MLAs, who Dhinakaran claims are his sleeper cells in the ruling AIADMK and who he says will vote for him in the event of a Trust vote.
Sources in Tamil Nadu also point to the possibility of Delhi and leaders like Thambidurai pushing for a rapprochement between Dhinakaran and OPS-EPS. This is based on intelligence reports that have suggested that though the majority of the MLAs are with EPS, Sasikala’s nephew has been attracting crowds in the districts.
The impression that a divided AIADMK won't benefit the BJP has reportedly gained ground. But the return of Dhinakaran won't be possible as EPS and OPS are in no mood to relinquish their posts, which is a pre-condition for a merger.
What Will Be the Effect of the Raids?
Will Thursday's raid have the desired effect? With the net having been cast far and wide, the I-T teams will be able to keep them busy in interrogation sessions – but politically, Dhinakaran may be able to manoeuvre the situation to his advantage. That is because Jaya TV and Namadhu MGR (the two mouthpieces of the AIADMK) were raided as well.
Though the two organs are controlled now by Sasikala’s family, much to the chagrin of the ruling faction, both are closely associated with Jayalalithaa, almost seen as part of Amma’s legacy. Expect Dhinakaran to go around telling the party rank and file that EPS and OPS deliberately let the central agencies inside the two offices and rile them up.
Jaya TV was not cowed by the raid either.
Even though the sleuths instructed editorial management not to carry any debates on the raid, the channel did not fall in line. Instead, in a throwback to how Sun TV broadcast visuals of Karunanidhi's arrest at midnight in 2001 to create anti-Jayalalithaa sentiment, Jaya TV defiantly aired images from every location that was raided. It indicated a resolve to take the Centre head-on.
Dhinakaran, for the record, said it was possibly a reaction to his criticism of demonetisation just a day before. But both he and Tamil Nadu know, the agency had dialed M for Mannargudi.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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