Today, when the next Tamil Nadu assembly election is just two months away, the birth anniversary of former state chief minister J Jayalalithaa, should be a war cry event for the two AIADMK factions competing to claim her legacy: one led by current CM Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy Ottakarathevar Panneerselvam, and the other by VK Sasikala, once Jayalalithaa’s confidant.
Sasikala was expelled from the party by her once loyalist Palaniswami after she was arrested and jailed in a disproportionate assets case.
But can they really claim Jaya’s legacy?
If we go by the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the findings of the post-poll survey by CSDS, we find both factions — the Palaniswami-led AIADMK, and the breakaway faction, Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran-led AMMK — are in troubled waters.
The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey following the 2019 parliamentary election had some interesting findings, very hostile to the idea that who can claim Jayalalithaa’s legacy now.
The survey showed most of the traditional voters of the party think neither faction is the real AIADMK.
And the reason pushed two-fifths of traditional AIADMK voters, who backed the party in 2014, to shift to DMK.
So, if traditional AIADMK voters could not identify with the Dhinakaran-led front, can they repose their faith in his aunt Sasikala, especially, when we see that Dhinakaran has failed to perform electorally: despite winning Jayalalithaa’s assembly seat RK Nagar in 2017, despite using Jayalalithaa’s name, despite there being the sympathy wave over Jayalalithaa’s demise and despite the ill-treatment of his aunt Sasikala, who was seen as being the closest person to Jayalalithaa.
Both the Palaniswami-led AIADMK and Dhinakaran’s AMMK fared poorly in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The DMK, which did not win even a single seat in the 2014 general election, picked up 24 seats last time while the AIADMK was reduced to just a single seat with 18.7% vote share, a humiliating performance for a ruling party that had unexpectedly and massively won the 2016 assembly polls under Jayalalithaa, repeating her 2011 assembly election victory and retaining the CM’s chair, despite the fact that Tamil Nadu has had a history of changing ruling parties in subsequent state election. And in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the AIADMK’s exploits were spectacular. It won 37 out of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state with a 44.3% vote share.
The DMK’s vote share increased to 33.2% in 2019 from 23.6% in 2014. DMK’s alliance partner Congress won 8 seats with a 12.9% vote share. So, together they won 32 seats with a 46.1% vote share.
Dhinakaran’s AMMK drew a blank with 5.27% of votes, mostly rural, and was completely obliterated from urban constituencies. The party failed to perform even in the assembly bypolls held together with the Lok Sabha election. The DMK won 13 out of the 22 constituencies that went to the polls with a 45.1% vote share while the ruling AIADMK was restricted to 9 seats with a 38.2% vote share. Though it was a better show than the Lok Sabha humiliation, we need to remember that 21 out of these 22 seats were earlier held by the AIADMK only.
Dhinakaran, Sasikala’s nephew, has nothing remarkable to show except the RK Nagar victory in 2017.
His failure electorally may be seen as Sasikala’s failure as well.
Also the corruption case against Sasikala was proved. She was in jail for four years in the disproportionate assets case and cannot contest elections for six years. Besides, Sasikala’s presence electorally may be restricted to a limited geographical area only.
Sasikala probably had these calculations in mind while thinking of the next course of action after her release from jail.
And the right fist step for her would be taking control of the party that was once synonymous with MGR and Jayalalithaa. Projecting herself as the rightful heir to Jayalalithaa, she has decided to retake control of the AIADMK and is in a court battle for that.
Her entry in the AIADMK doesn’t look possible as of now as the E Palaniswami (EPS)-O Panneerselvam (OPS) faction has made it clear that Sasikala won’t be allowed in. Though she has approached a Chennai court against her removal as AIADMK’s general secretary, it is also a fact that the EPS-OPS duo have been able to keep the party united so far.
So, the best approach for Sasikala may be just to wait and watch. Wait for a poll debacle. With 10 years of anti-incumbency and a rock-bottom vote share, Sasikala’s chances for her return to the AIADMK would be riper if the faction led by EPS-OPS fails to perform once again after the humiliating show in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Then appeal to depressed leaders and cadres of a defeated party, remind them who was always Jayalalithaa’s favourite, remind them that she is the last hope, and recollect their loyalty.