By Advait Moharir
Sasikala, the trusted aide and close confidante of the late J.Jayalalithaa, has been elevated to the post of General Secretary of the AIADMK. This now makes her the new face of the party. Interestingly, her appointment reflects the continuation of a trend that seems to be an inescapable part of Dravidian politics: choosing a powerful representative face over someone politically experienced.
The uniqueness of politics in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu’s politics owes its uniqueness to a deep-rooted historical context. The dynamics here are quite different. In a State like Bihar, caste dynamics play a make or break role; whereas in Maharashtra, the outcome is decided by how certain regional groups and farmers vote.
Beginning with K.Kamaraj, government policy in Tamil Nadu has always been about welfare, freebies, populism and to some extent, Tamil identity. While the earlier CMs like Annadurai were political stalwarts, it was with the split in the DMK engineered by charismatic film actor MG. Ramachandran(MGR) – to form the AIADMK, that the culture of popularity to gain political mileage started. And, the role of principles and ideology began to decline. There was now room only for policies and politics pandering to the masses.
Jayalalithaa, again a former film start, inherited this legacy from MGR. She mastered, perfected, and implemented to the hilt, policies that catered to the vox populi. With her appointment, Sasikala has inherited this legacy. However, she is quite different from the earlier crop of AIADMK leaders.
A known continuity or is it a new beginning?
Sasikala was introduced to politics by her husband; and her role was more of back-end political manoeuvering than ground-level campaigning or policy-making. The biggest weapon in her arsenal, however, is her closeness to the former CM.
Firstly, she doesn’t have a background in films. In fact, she was introduced to politics by her husband; and her role was more of back-end political manoeuvering than ground-level campaigning or policy-making. The biggest weapon in her arsenal, however, is her closeness to the former CM. She has seen and closely observed how the CM functions and probably knows how the administrative mechanism runs. Her popularity has been a media phenomenon with multiple sources calling her the shadow of the former CM. Thus, it was no surprise that her name was one of the first to make the rounds for the post of both CM and General Secretary.
The argument that O.Panneerselvam is a puppet CM, while the real decisions and power lie in Sasikala’s hand carries quite a lot of weight. O.Panneerselvam hasn’t shown any significant administrative acumen during his last two brief stints as CM. He left the job to the bureaucracy, and probably will be subject to the whims of Sasikala now too. The flipside of populist politics is that any anti-people policies will bring about downfall as pro-people politics makes you into a cult. The old ghosts of intra-party factions have come back to haunt the AIADMK – with Jayalalitha’s niece Deepa Jayakumar forming an anti-Sasikala front within the party. So while the transition has been quick, the acceptance has not been as unanimous as Sasikala would have liked.
Tamil Nadu politics in transition
The path for the new General Secretary is difficult and requires careful political manoeuvering. She will have to ensure a certain degree of transparency which was lacking in the previous government; as well as address the rumours floating about her husband’s re-entry into the party.
Tamil Nadu politics are entering a transition phase. Only time will tell if Sasikala has learnt the ropes of the rough and tumble of politics from her predecessor or whether inner party factionalism will weaken her and lead to the creation of multiple power centres in the party.