In Tamil Nadu's Panneerselvam versus Sasikala, the winners and losers

Apoorva Pathak
Apoorva PathakFeb 09, 2017 | 15:48

In Tamil Nadu's Panneerselvam versus Sasikala, the winners and losers

The uncertainty that has engulfed Tamil Nadu politics for two months since the death of Jayalalithaa, has taken another interesting turn, with acting CM O Panneerselvam (OPS) rebelling against AIADMK supremo VK Sasikala.

In a week laden with drama, Panneerselvam created a political storm by revealing the multiple humiliations he had suffered from Sasikala and her aides, how he was coerced to make way for Chinnamma, and added to the rumours surrounding Jayalalithaa's death, even proposing an inquiry into it.


His revolt has furthered deepened the prevailing uncertainty. But as the battle for the throne of Tamil Nadu still rages, let us have a look at what the state's political storm means for different stakeholders and who are the likely winners and losers from this continuing tussle:

The winners

O Panneerselvam: He has managed to play his cards to the best of his abilities. He laid low and played to perfection the role of the soft-spoken, humble loyalist, thus being on the right side of the sympathy wave for Jayalalithaa and earning the goodwill of the cadres, which can come in handy in the likely eventuality of a prolonged tussle for power.

Next he allowed Sasikala to be caught in her own web. He let her gain control and invite public wrath and as soon as the public mood swelled against her, he has in a brilliantly choreographed show of praying and connecting to Jaya at the Marina (with perfect prime time timing to get the maximum audience), become the darling of the masses.

With one masterstroke, Panneerselvam has managed to come out of the shadow of Jayalalithaa and become a mass leader who enjoys the sympathy of the cadres of his party and the voters of the state at large. 


With the sword of conviction hanging over Sasikala, OPS is still in the reckoning to wrest control of AIADMK and the state government. Even otherwise, Panneerselvam's sudden skyrocketing of popularity makes him a difficult force to ignore henceforth, and he certainly will not be the pushover he has been perceived to be till now. 

On the flip side, OPS, for now at least, will lose the powerful ministries he had held for so long and thus reduce his patronage power. With elections still more than four years away, it's unlikely many MLAs will risk violating the party's official line and chance another election.

Also it remains to be seen how long the mood swing in favour of OPS lasts, and without AIADMK, what are the options he has in front of him.

DMK: The main opposition in Tamil Nadu, DMK, smarting under the 2016 poll defeat, and staring at a long spell of political wilderness, has been given a fresh lease of life due to the political storm.

Firstly, with the ruling party troubled by infighting and public disgust over the dirty internal mechanisms of the AIADMK, DMK's chances in the approaching local body elections are as bright as they could be.


Secondly, if OPS manages sufficient support for himself, the AIADMK may split, with many MLAs losing seats and presenting DMK with the chance of wresting these seats. Moreover, in such a scenario, DMK stands a shot at forming the government if - as a result of disqualification - the majority mark reduces and DMK has more strength than the reduced majority mark.

The BJP needs AIADMK MPs and MLAs for the upcoming presidential election as well as for preventing a united Opposition in Parliament.

Thirdly, in the long term, the weakening of AIADMK due to the ugly infighting and absence of a leader of credibility may boost the DMK's chances in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The losers 

Sasikala: As a long time confidante of Jaya, Sasikala knows the ins and outs of AIADMK. She was also well placed to inherit Jaya's legacy due to her over two-decade association with Amma.

Yet, through a series of missteps, Sasikala has become hugely unpopular. The public mood has turned against her and even if she can win the majority of MLAs, as she seems to be winning, dealing with a disgruntled, suspicious and hostile public will not be an easy task for her.

Public hostility is also likely to lead to less patience among people to give Chinnamma any legroom to make the initial mistakes that a new administrator usually makes.

Also, with OPS adding fuel to the rumour that Jaya may have been murdered, Sasikala may not find it so easy to harness the sympathy for Jaya. Instead, she may face heat from Jaya's fans.

With the Supreme Court slated to rule on her disproportionate assets case, Sasikala may well go to jail and be out of electoral politics for a long time. With recent events seriously undermining her credibility, Sasikala may find it hard to make a comeback to politics if she is exiled from it by the SC.

On the bright side for Sasikala, if she wins the power struggle with OPS and gets a clean chit from the SC, then she may be in an enviable position to emerge as the next big leader in Tamil Nadu.

BJP: The BJP does not have any MLAs in Tamil Nadu yet, since it is ruling the Centre, it has allowed it to play a crucial role in the present storm through the office of governor.

The open hostility it has displayed to Sasikala may prove to be a costly gambit for the BJP. The party needs AIADMK MPs and MLAs for the upcoming presidential election as well as for preventing a united Opposition in Parliament.

But by inviting the wrath of Sasikala, who seems to be winning the power tussle with 130 MLAs by her side, the BJP may create a powerful new enemy in Parliament. 

Even if OPS wins the power struggle, the BJP rooting for him may not lead him to reciprocate the favour. Firstly, he cannot so easily deviate from Jaya's policy of keeping the central government at an arm's length. Secondly, OPS may not want to risk public support by any measure that may show him as a puppet of the Centre.

Thirdly, the BJP has very little to offer OPS after the governor's role in swearing-in the new CM is over. The BJP does not have any MLAs to offer to him, nor does it have strong political hold over TN (the BJP won only 2.8 per cent votes in the 2016 state election.)

Thirdly, the governor's active interference in TN politics by dilly-dallying the swearing-in of the new government has weakened the BJP's claim as a champion of federalism. Finally, the BJP also risks the run of the Centre appearing as meddling in Tamil Nadu's affairs and invoking the emotive issue of Tamil pride and autonomy. 

For all of the downsides, the possibility of any increment in public support within Tamil Nadu for the BJP is also remote, as the social equation and cultural traditions of the state make it difficult for the party to make a mark in it.

All in all, the political storm in Tamil Nadu carries a mixture of good and bad news for most stakeholders and with the situation still fluid, who gets to have the last laugh remains to be seen. 

Last updated: February 09, 2017 | 16:02
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