Both the ruling party, the AIADMK, led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, and its breakaway faction, the AMMK, headed by TTV Dhinakaran, have put forth their respective agendas to pay homage to the former chief minister, and battle lines are drawn for the right to claim her political legacy. The day that was set aside for Amma’s followers to pay their respects to their deceased leader is now being usurped into a show of strength.
The timing of this rivalry couldn’t have been at a more pertinent moment in Tamil Nadu’s political history. VK Sasikala, the ousted one-time aide of Jayalalithaa has not left a stone unturned in her quest to prove that she is the rightful heir to the AIADMK throne. From brandishing the party’s flag on the hood of the car that transported her from Bengaluru to Chennai last month, to even staking her claim on the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol of the AIADMK by possibly challenging the Election Commission’s decision to grant the symbol to the EPS-led party. Not that team EPS-OPS is taking any of this lying down. Having issued a clarion call to supporters to light a lamp in honour of Amma, and taking a pledge of allegiance to combat anti-AIADMK forces, EPS in a strongly worded letter to his cadre, encouraged them to stand up to traitors and enemies. Earlier, O Panneerselvam had referred to his battle against Sasikala, as a Dharma Yuddham, or a battle undertaken for the cause of righteousness.
Keeping in mind the notion of timing being everything, the Chief Minister had inaugurated a memorial to Amma at Marina beach, just ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections. The move was seen by political observers as a strategic measure to uphold Amma’s values and send out a message that EPS was not keen on being unseated from his Chief Ministerial post. The memorial has since been closed to the public, as a few aspects of construction are yet to be completed. The State government had also converted Amma’s home, Veda Nilayam, into a memorial at a cost of Rs 67 crore. There were objections in the form of writ petitions filed by Jayalalithaa’s legal heirs to the government’s acquisition. On top of it, the Income Tax Department had informed the High Court that it was unable to retrieve a sum of Rs 36 cr that was due from the late CM on account of income tax and wealth tax.
A question that must be asked at this point in time is whether the political legacies of leaders have been watered down to the mere construction of memorials, and remembrance days that can be conveniently leveraged as calling cards for loyalty during an impending election. As is the norm in Tamil Nadu, the tide often turns in favour of the one whose speech and actions remind the public of an iconic leader. People in Tamil Nadu look for someone who they believe will carry forward an ideology, rather than be the harbinger of change. It remains to be seen whether it’s EPS or Sasikala or some other former lieutenant who can lay claim to that voice in the upcoming election.