CHENNAI: Less than 24 hours after AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa was laid to rest, rumblings have started in the party. Senior leaders have begun to question the “indecent haste” with which O Panneerselvam was sworn in as the chief minister as they feel it was a temporary move before Sasikalaa makes her ambitions clear.
A quiet power struggle between two dominant caste groups has been playing out since Monday evening, even before the announcement of Jayalalithaa’s death; now it seems to get audible with leaders talking about the likelihood of Sasikalaa trying to play a bigger role. A few legislators who told TOI on Tuesday that they would support Sasikalaa as the party general secretary made a U-turn on Wednesday.
“We believe the swearing-in was done in a hurry to check any rebellion against Sasikalaa taking control suddenly,” said a senior AIADMK leader. Sasikalaa, who controlled much of the party affairs even when Jayalalithaa was in charge, is said to have the backing of more than half of the party MLAs, many of them thevars, a community to which she and OPS belong.
Another leader was more emotional. “Amma was buried as ‘Puratchi Thalaivi Selvi J Jayalalithaa’ (as embossed on her coffin) and not as the Tamil Nadu chief minister,” said a senior party leader. “This is because they were in a tearing hurry to swear in OPS as CM. There is something fishy.”
A senior AIADMK MP countered the argument saying that the reason for the haste was to avoid any uncertainty. “Our rivals are bound to prey on our party. Moreover, wasn’t Rajiv Gandhi too sworn in even before the funeral of his mother Indira Gandhi?”
Partymen point to earlier occasions when chief ministers died in office and interim CMs took on the responsibilities. When C N Annadurai died in January 1969 while in office, V R Nedunchezhian, the senior most DMK leader was made the interim CM, and he remained in that post from February 3 to 10, 1969. Following the death of AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran on December 24, 1987, his wife Janaki became the CM only on January 7. Till then there was no interim CM, some AIADMK legislators pointed out.
The presence of an array of Sasikalaa relatives at Rajaji Hall in Chennai, where Jayalalithaa’s body was placed for public view, has upset a large section of partymen, some senior leaders told TOI. The relatives took centre stage even as political leaders and others became a sideshow. “These are the family members, including Sasikalaa’s husband M Natarajan, whom Jayalalithaa had expelled from the party. How can she give them such prominence? Sasikalaa has failed to respect Amma’s wishes,” said a leader. This has sent a wrong signal across the party’s rank and file, he said.
Key appointments in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy and the police and state intelligence too have been influenced by Sasikalaa, say sources. It remains to be seen how OPS will handle emerging power centres in the party and the bureaucracy in the absence of Jayalalithaa.
On Wednesday, the first day of the three-day mourning period, most senior partymen kept indoors. A few senior ministers, accompanied by a team of PWD officials, were sent to the Marina to plan the upcoming memorial. While the churning within the party has been kept under wraps, disgruntled partymen have been meeting in groups to discuss the party’s future.
Source: Times of India