Sasikala’s Power Struggle Raises Suspicion Around Jaya’s Death
Sasikala’s power struggle only raises suspicion around Jaya’s death and calls for an objective probe by the CBI.
These are again exciting times in Chennai. We thought that the Jallikattu chaos, a few weeks ago, was unique and unparalleled in its entertainment value. What is now unfolding on the streets of Chennai is even more bizarre and ridiculous, drawing national attention to the level that politics can stoop in this country.
President’s Rule, A Viable Option
The political game that is now being played out of Poes Garden deserves a Kollywood script. What was heard only as a whisper until late last night has now become stridently public. Knives are out, and it is a straight bitter fight between OPS (the present caretaker Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) and the ruling AIADMK’s General Secretary Sasikala Natarajan, now called Chinnamma (Little Mother). It is anybody’s guess as to how it would pan out eventually.
I fall in line with the widely heard conjecture that the State is headed for a long spell of President’s rule.
If the Governor actually recommends this, he would become a hugely popular figure. Except Sasikala, everybody – both political and non-political segments of the Tamil populace – will welcome such a move and greet it with gratitude and joy.
The people are so fed up with the corruption in government that anything other than an ironically called ‘popular’ government is most welcome. This is because nothing in the State moves without somebody’s palm being greased. Jobs – including membership in the Public Service Commission and positions of University Vice-Chancellors – are sold for a phenomenal price.
Mystery Around Jaya’s Death
We should begin with how it all started. It was widely known that late Jayalalithaa had a serious medical problem for years. Her admission to the Apollo Hospital last November did not, therefore, come as a surprise. Although not many were prepared for the suddenness with which she was moved late at night to the Apollo Hospital.
What was initially considered as a short spell of treatment, was prolonged in installments, until she passed away on 5 December, 2016.
The genuine anxiety on the part of a humongously large following of the leader, slowly gave way to rumours and an apprehension that there was something fishy with regard to her treatment at the Apollo.
A few economically worded medical bulletins – that too under pressure from the public and her millions of admirers – did not pass muster of the public, and things became more curious with Jaya’s continued stay at the hospital and reports that except the Governor, no soul on earth – barring her infamous aide Sasikala – was allowed to meet her.
The general impression was that the renowned hospital was coerced into silence. The current imbroglio has added spice to the controversy, and this has triggered a clamour for an investigation into the circumstances leading to Amma’s death.
Need for an Objective Probe
A press conference, a few days ago, on the details of treatment administered to Jaya seemed artificial and dubious, if you consider its timing. What surprised many was the participation therein of Dr Richard Beale of the University College Hospital London, who, for a few days, formed part of the team that looked after Jaya at Apollo.
He was obviously flown into Chennai at a considerable expense. He may have been speaking the truth when he said that Jaya was given all possible treatment at Apollo on strictly professional lines.
But this has not gone well with a heavily suspecting public, who are surprised by the timing of it. It is painful to see that an eminent British doctor allowed himself to be drawn into a controversy.
The Madras HC scrupulously avoided getting involved in the controversy by dismissing a PIL on the subject recently. In my view, the demand for an objective investigation is likely to become intense in the days to come.
Judiciary Can Play Spoilsport
There is a school of thought that only a CBI investigation into the circumstances of Jaya’s death will appease a suspecting public opinion. This is not an unreasonable demand, if one goes by the unprecedented blanket of secrecy that shrouded the expansive ward at the Apollo hospital, where Jaya’s treatment took place for nearly two months mainly through a court order on a PIL. Neither the Centre nor any court will act suo motu. Significantly, Jaya was buried and not cremated, enhancing the value of an exhumation that has been demanded by some.
As many as 131 MLAs are said to have attended the Wednesday morning meeting by the AIADMK presided over by Sasikala, as against just one who turned up at OPS’ residence. This signals victory for the former. But things are still in a flux. A lot will depend on the Apex Court’s verdict, expected any time, in the Disproportionate Case against Sasikala and her nephew and niece.
If the judgement goes against her, she will automatically be out of the race. If not, she can reign over the State royally. But for how long? Nobody can speculate, as horse trading could begin anytime in the near future.
Governor Can’t Be Faulted for Sudden Crisis
It is widely known that the support for Sasikala in the legislature party is linked to money as well as the fear factor. OPS’ resignation itself is said to have emanated from his refusal to toe the Sasikala line over a huge government contract. He claims he put in his papers out of intimidation questioning his upright stand. I cannot disbelieve him, as the politics of the state has an unenviable track record for the unabashed use of the State machinery, especially the State Police.
Fortunately, the State now has a lady Chief Secretary known for her integrity and guts. When she took an honest stand in the matter, it was therefore not difficult for OPS to fall in line as Chief Minister. This is said to have irked the lady. An outsider can gauge the nadir that the state has reached.
Some people have criticised Governor Vidyasagar for the delay in the swearing-in of Sasikala as the Chief Minister. This is misconceived, especially after the SC hinted last week, that the final order in the DA case would be pronounced within days. Against this backdrop, how can you fault a sane governor for not acting on a majority party’s decision? He never said ‘no’. He is only buying time to watch developments in a judicial matter of utmost importance.
Vicious Campaign Against Panneerselvam
A final word of speculation. OPS has claimed that he commands majority support in the party, and that if taken to the Assembly, the matter could resolve in his favour. This may, on the face of it, seem a bogus claim. In the bizarre state that Tamil Nadu is, all this could change during a floor test.
Support to OPS from the DMK is a veiled one for now. It could become blatant as days pass by, and an aggressive backing by the DMK could put a lot of courage on a shy and mild OPS, who is no longer the unambitious leader that he was under Jayalalithaa. By all accounts, he is now a person who wants to deliver to the common man, as the short innings he has had in the post-Jaya days reveal. His style of functioning has already won the admiration of the higher civil service at Fort St. George.
Naturally, the Chinnamma group is disturbed over this, and has unleashed a vicious campaign against him. He can heave a sigh of relief from the fact that the social media has rallied behind him.
The fact that he continues to be the Chief Minister and the knowledge that the police force cannot be used against him and his supporters just now, should beef him up, at least for a while. On the whole, very interesting days are ahead.
(The writer is a former CBI Director. He can be reached @rkraghu1. 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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