Editorial: A thaw in relations or a crack?

The reverberations of VK Sasikala’s potential reinduction into AIADMK has been felt in the highest echelons of the Dravidian party. O Panneerselvam, the former deputy CM recently said the top brass would take a final call on this matter.
Editorial: A thaw in relations or a crack?
AIADMK Leaders Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam (File Photo)

Chennai

Party cadre remain polarised regarding the return of its former general secretary, dropped in the aftermath of her conviction in the disproportionate assets case. Soon after her release from prison, Sasikala announced a ‘retirement’ from politics. But, the decision was unsurprisingly short-lived – political observers remarked it was only a matter of time before she would re-emerge. Now, this development is gaining momentum with every passing day. On one hand, party seniors JCD Prabhakar, V Pugazhendhi, MGR’s grandson Ramachandran, ex-minister Sellur K Raju are backing the move, which has seen opposition from only a few leaders like KP Munusamy and D Jayakumar. A key leader who has opposed Sasikala’s re-entry is former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, who arguably benefited the most from her exit. 
In June, a few members of the party were expelled for reaching out to Sasikala. To regain lost ground, the ousted leader reconnected with sidelined functionaries and demonstrated her continuing influence in the party. Audio, video transcripts of chats she had with party members were also released online. Chinks in AIADMK’s armour became visible after the Assembly elections; Exhibit A being leaders from western districts gaining an upper hand in the party. To consolidate his position, OPS appears to have softened his stance on Sasikala, whose involvement in the party he had opposed after J Jayalalithaa’s passing. All that is water under the bridge as Sasikala had called on OPS during a condolence meet after the death of his wife. 
The big question is what does AIADMK stand to gain, in the event of Sasikala being brought back into the fold. She stood by Jayalalithaa through thick and thin, coming across as a kingmaker in the background. Thanks to the respect she commanded over her Mukkulathor (Thevar) community, AIADMK turned several pockets in the southern districts into vote bank strongholds. The community which is concentrated in 9 to 10 southern districts in TN usually decides the fate of vote-seeking candidates in the region. 
In the recent Assembly polls, AIADMK put up a stellar show in the western districts, essentially the Kongu belt, a mainstay of the Gounders, a stronghold of EPS. But the party won only a handful of seats in the south, devoid of Chinnamma’s patronage. The DMK’s vote share in the last election was around 37%, while the AIADMK bagged 33% of the votes – a remarkable feat. However, the gap widened significantly in the recently concluded civic polls in nine districts as the ruling party won around 69% and the Opposition finished its tally with a mere 14%. This massive difference makes one wonder if the ‘factions’ should close ranks to consolidate the party and its partymen. 
The AIADMK’s top brass must weigh these factors before deciding on the reinduction of Sasikala, who has the wherewithal to bring back the Thevar votes. AIADMK is now caught in a quintessential Hobson’s choice. On one hand, is the domination of Kongunadu while retaining members of other communities in the party, and the other is accepting Sasikala to regain the lost Thevar base in the South. Sasikala’s recent tour of the southern districts this week to pay her respects to Muthuramalinga Thevar in Ramanathapuram and Madurai is a clear indication of her intent to be back in business. In Tamil Nadu, the personality cult reigns supreme in politics. Sasikala is far from being the dark horse who could turn the fortunes of the party around. But it’s imperative that the AIADMK soon decides on reinstating Chinnamma. Else, the continuing infighting between its factions might push it down a spiral of irrelevance and obscurity; like how a grand old party at the Centre finds itself in this age.

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