Saturday / March 23.


By S. Sethuraman 

Tamil Nadu, noted for stability and good governance through decades, may be in for political uncertainty, without a robust leader at the helm like Ms. Jayalalithaa, the convicted and jailed Chief Minister. But this is dependant on the outcome of the 2016 assembly elections. Meanwhile, her ruling AIADMK will hold the fort firm.


The space for political rivalry may open wide especially if the redoutable AIADMK leader fails to win substantially in revision appeals she plans to file against the tough sentences meted out to her in the disproportionate assets case. Her immediate concern is for bail, and she was to move an application before the vacation bench of Karnataka High Court on September 30.


After consultations in Bangalore jail with AIADMK leaders, she has again chosen Mr O Panneerselvam, her trusted loyalist, to be legislative party leader. He was duly elected at the party meeting on September 28 and later invited by the Governor Mr K Rosaiah to form the next Ministry.


The new dispensation will ride on the crest of the sympathy wave for Amma in her predicament, and on the strength and credibility of her development-cum-welfare policies raising Tamil Nadu’s stature in the league of states over the last three years.


Mr Panneerselvam (63) had earlier been acting Chief Minister in 2001, when the AIADMK leader had been sentenced in a smaller case but acquitted soon. He held the portfolios of Finance and Public Works under Ms. Jayalalithaa in her third term as CM and presented the three budgets since 2011, after AIADMK had wrested power, inflicting a humiliating defeat for the rival, Mr M Karunanidhi’s DMK.


In one of the toughest punishments for top politicians over recent years but on a serving Chief Minister for the first time, Ms. Jayalalithaa was convicted and sentenced by a special court in Bangalore on September 27, in the 18-year old case of holding disproportionate wealth. The Judge, Mr John Michael D’Cunha, may have set a record of sorts in slapping a four year imprisonment and a fine of rs.100 crores.


The Chief Minister was immediately taken into custody and lodged in a Bangalore jail. There was instant commotion among swarms of Amma’s supporters crowding the environs of the Court in a specially designated area.  In anger, a series of violent incidents broke out across Tamil Nadu with attacks on some DMK cadres and a few cases of suicide, heart attacks and self-immolation over the deal meted out to Amma. There was a virtual bandh in many centres.


The Governor Mr Rosaiah had to intervene to get authorities to restore order and normalcy was said to have returned on Sunday. The political scene was set agog with speculations on evolving developments. Given the record of Ms. Jayalalithaa emerging unscathed in a series of cases with sentences before, political circles do not rule out the possibility altogether of her overcoming the present ordeal too, subject of course to successful appeals to higher courts.


As it is, Ms. Jayalalithaa (66) would remain disqualified from elective posts for at least ten years – a mandated six years in cases of conviction, following a four year jail sentence. Ms. Jayalalithaa has been in touch with AIADMK leaders from jail and would be providing guidance to her party, as she goes in appeals for reliefs, beginning with her bail application on September 30 before the Karnataka High Court Vacation. Later, she intends to follow up with pleas for revision of the Special Judge order. The full High Court resumes after recess on October 6.


Political analysts in Tamil Nadu are discussing how the new situation in Tamil Nadu could evolve, even if the AIADMK Government safely gets through the next 20 months, building on the substantial support base and popularity, both in urban and rural areas for Amma’s development-cum-welfare policies she had adroitly put through since 2011.


Though power in Tamil Nadu had been alternatively held by the two dominating Dravidian rivals, DMK and AIADMK, after the end of Congress rule in 1967, the magnitude of punishment for Ms. Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case (66 crores) seems to mark a turning point in  the state political scene.


For, no longer DMK, its leader entering the 90s, looks a real alternative to AIADMK. The party has come under clouds, the 2G scam involving two of its leading members, family feuds and sibling rivalry (Mr M K Stalin and Mr M K Alagiri) for future leadership, and its base looks substantially eroded in the manner of Ms. Jayalalithaa winning 37 of the 39 seats in Lok Sabha to become the second largest opposition after the Congress (44).


Mr Karunanidhi did not come out with a ready statement hailing the court verdict on his arch-rival Ms. Jayalalithaa, indeed it stares at likelihood of some of its leaders being arraigned with a variation of the charges it had originally caused to be brought up before courts against the AIADMK chief way back in 1996.  But it would certainly try to put a brave face for an electoral run as and when it occurs.


Analysts like veteran commentator and satirist, “CHO” (Mr Ramaswamy) feel “it may not be the end of road for Ms. Jayalalithaa yet”.  They would rather see how legal battles to take shape. Ms. Jayalalithaa had shown her ability to come out of trials and turn adversity to opportunity. Her grit showed up when, ignoring the “Modi wave” in the North and central India, she asserted her dominance over all the national and regional parties to register a massive victory in the May Lok Sabha polls.


There are, however, imponderables on how the situation in Tamil Nadu would turn by 2016. The Congress, hopelessly divided in its state leadership, and the grassroots long neglected by its dependence on alliances, mainly with DMK, no longer talks of a return to ‘Kamraj rule’ as it was pining for, till the last decade. The party indeed looks like having lost the will to fight in parts of the country, more particularly in Tamil Nadu, and may not pose any serious challenge.


On the other hand, the more assertive BJP, reinforced by its national dominance with a near two-thirds majority it commands in the 16th Lok Sabha after the May elections, would again begin to enlarge its growing influence in Tamil Nadu, having already won in one Parliamentary constituency. It would bank on Modi touches for a campaign.


Without the presence of Ms. Jayalalithaa, even if she remains electorally disqualified, to guide AIADMK post-2016, holding the party together for a fresh mandate in the next assembly elections could prove problematical. In that case, new poll alliances would emerge, including an AIADMK-BJP combine which at present may seem a more viable proposition. (IPA Service)


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