Jayalalithaa’s ‘Tainted’ Legacy and Where AIADMK Goes From Here

Jayalalithaa and her legacy are still the AIADMK’s passport to electoral success, writes TS Sudhir.

4 min read
Jayalalithaa’s ‘Tainted’ Legacy and Where AIADMK Goes From Here

The best of rollercoaster rides could not have delivered the unpredictability and apprehension that the AIADMK has given to Tamil Nadu in the one year since Jayalalithaa passed away. In keeping with Tamil Nadu's fetish for masala cinema, the ruling party has dished out a political thriller replete with conspiracy, melodrama and revenge.

It has been supported in good measure by those from Kollywood giving a screen test in the political arena, with an intention to script their own entry. In a nutshell, Tamil Nadu post-Jayalalithaa has become one that it never was under her rule.

But it is not as if Jayalalithaa is a forgotten entity. Far from it, the last 365 days have seen a vulgar competition to stake claim to her political legacy. The scramble is intense because much like her mentor and party founder, MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa did not build a second line of leadership.

With political pygmies for ministers and powerless occupants of party positions, the only virtue that got the rank and file into Jayalalithaa's good books and act as a ladder to political elevation, was an ability to prostrate well before the presiding deity of Poes Garden.

Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK governed by an autocratic streak could well have been called just ‘Jayalalithaa & Party’. But Jayalalithaa, despite her imperious persona, still remains the AIADMK’s passport to electoral success. All the four people who have either enjoyed power or came close to it, are relevant only because of the Jayalalithaa connect.

O Panneerselvam's only claim to political legitimacy within the AIADMK is that he was handpicked twice by Jayalalithaa to replace her as CM when she had to step aside because of legal reasons.

Sasikala emphasises her three decade-long association with Jayalalithaa, as does her nephew TTV Dhinakaran. Edappadi Palaniswami, another Jayalalithaa loyalist, brought to her kitty the maximum number of AIADMK seats in 2016, winning 45 of the 57 seats from his backyard in western Tamil Nadu.

Laying Claims to Amma’s ‘Tainted’ Legacy

But while Jayalalithaa's name continues to be chanted and the government of Tamil Nadu is referred to as Amma's government, the fact remains that the EPS regime is very different from the one run by Jayalalithaa.

For one, the fear factor that hung over every AIADMK leader preventing them from speaking their mind to the media, no longer exists. Each one of them is more open now, perhaps aware that they are batting in the slog overs as far as the life of this government is concerned. It is only now that they are carving out a personality for themselves in the media eye.

The Jayalalithaa legacy, however, is not a fruit that can be appropriated by a single individual. All three – EPS, OPS and Dhinakaran – want to be seen as the inheritor of her legacy. Her niece Deepa also is in the fray, drawing her relevance from her DNA. Even actor Vishal before filing his nomination for RK Nagar byelection as an independent, made it a point to pay his respects at Jayalalithaa's samadhi, making it clear that he too wants to be associated with her memory.

However, it is a tainted legacy. The faithul in the AIADMK won’t talk about it or will conveniently pin all the blame on Sasikala but the fact remains that had Jayalalithaa been alive, she would have been in Bengaluru prison, convicted in the disproportionate assets case.

Where Does the AIADMK Go from Here?

This is why the two-leaves symbol has become all-important and by desiring it, the present leadership has conveyed that the MGR legacy is much more pristine and unblemished by any charge of wrongdoing.

Many old-timers still vote for the two-leaves symbol without bothering about the candidate. It only means the symbol still has battery life left in Tamil Nadu politics. Also, unlike Jayalalithaa who went out of her way to humiliate people who fell out of favour with her, MGR continued with his filmy act of being a kind soul in the political arena.

Where does the AIADMK go from here? It is an accepted fact that the party's 2017 version is a much weaker avatar, bullied into submission by Income Tax raids and dissension in its ranks.

Given the EPS vs OPS battle, it is highly unlikely that the party will remain a cohesive unit for long. Then there is Dhinakaran waiting in the wings, looking for an opportune moment to strike.

The AIADMK votebank then will split several times over, benefiting the DMK in the bargain. Most believe this anti-DMK votebank is up for grabs, which is why several new players have decided to jump into politics.

Most expect the by-election in Jayalalithaa's erstwhile constituency RK Nagar to set the ball rolling and be a make-or-break affair for the AIADMK. If the ruling party does not win on 24 December, the turn of the calendar is likely to witness more chaotic twists.

(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached @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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