Haunting in Tamil Nadu: Amma's spirit bore bad news for OPS and Sasikala
One wonders if Panneerselvam would be ruing his rebellion.
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On February 7, around 9.30 pm, Tamil Nadu's caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam reached Jayalalithaa’s memorial at Marina beach. After 40 minutes of meditation, he emerged to speak to the waiting mediapersons and broke news of his conversation with Amma's "soul". He went on to lambaste VK Sasikala, on whose instructions he had stepped down from the post just a day earlier.
It was almost reminiscent of a Shakespearean drama like Hamlet, where the ghost of a deceased person would appear and reveal things. Since then, the spirit and shadow of Jayalalithaa has been looming large beyond the horizons of Marina beach. The political drama had only begun.
Earlier in the day, two press conferences in the state made a lot of news. In the morning, former Assembly speaker PH Pandian held a presser, and went on to accuse Sasikala of abetting Jayalalithaa’s death, along with other allegations and questions about her treatment at Apollo Hospitals and the circumstances of her demise. Later in the day, Jayalalithaa’s estranged niece Deepa Jayakumar held a press conference to announce her formal entry into politics.
Dr Richard Beale, the specialist doctor who treated Amma, had flown down from the UK to hold a press conference with fellow doctors from Apollo just a day ago. That was a tactical move to dispel rumours and speculations in the social media regarding the death of the AIADMK chief and set the stage for Sasikala’s smooth takeover.
Soon after Panneerselvam’s revolt, something virtually unheard of in Tamil Nadu politics in the recent past, a large section of people came out to register their support and hail him for finally standing up to Sasikala.
Sasikala and her clan are quite unpopular, especially after Jayalalithaa herself had thrown Sasikala and her family out of her Poes Garden residence. Though Sasikala managed to patch up with Jayalalithaa after a written apology, her family members, including her husband Natarajan, remained banished.
The next few days saw the political thriller play out in full view of the media, with the ball in the Governor Vidyasagar Rao’s court. The Governor initially chose to play hide and seek with Sasikala, as he kept delaying his return to Tamil Nadu despite the state being on the edge of a political crisis.Both Sasikala and O Panneerselvam claimed to have 'communed with the departed leader'.
The central government explained away his absence by the fact that Rao was merely a part-time Governor of Tamil Nadu.
Many theories emerged about whose puppet Panneerselvam had now become and speculations whether the central government was firmly backing him got credence after the Governor chose to play hardball with Sasikala.
Despite producing an affidavit signed by more than the requisite number of legislators to form the government, the Governor chose to wait for the Supreme Court verdict on the disproportionate assets case that was supposed to come out within a week. He was purportedly seeking the advice of legal luminaries like Soli Sorabjee and the central government’s law officer, the Attorney General.
The next few days saw many leaders of the AIADMK backing Panneerselvam; the party legislators who held the key to government formation were taken to a resort in Mahabalipuram with the party cadre denying the media entry into the premises and cutting off all routes out, including through the ferry. In between, Sasikala too went to the resting place of Jayalalithaa to have her own conversations with Amma and vowed to keep the flock together.
Despite more than 10 Parliament members of AIADMK crossing over to the camp of Panneerselvam, he couldn’t muster the support of the MLAs. In the end, the Supreme Court verdict came out a week later (on Tuesday), sentencing Sasikala to four years in prison and overturning the flawed judgment of the Karnataka High Court acquitting her and Jayalalithaa.
As with Shakespearean tragedies, where the appearance of a spirit or ghost presages a tragedy, the “soul” of Jayalalithaa too brought tragedy for the principal characters, Panneerselvam and Sasikala.
One wonders if Panneerselvam would be ruing his rebellion, for he would have been nominated as CM for almost an entire term instead of K Palanisamy, who has now been sworn in. As for Sasikala, she goes to prison for a period of four years and cannot hold any political office for ten years.
The drama might not have come to an end yet, as it remains to be seen if the newly sworn-in CM manages to keep the flock together and wins the vote of confidence in the Assembly. Even then, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the party witnesses another round of instability in the next few months.