By Ramachandra Murthy Kondubhatla
It happened with Indira Gandhi fourty eight years ago and now it is happening with Sasikala, although the comparison could be faulted on many counts. The similarity is only to the extent that both are incumbent women politicians. Subsequently, there were other coups which we will discuss later. While Indira was seen as a natural legatee of the Congress party, Sasikala is labeled a usurper. Indira had a hoary family background whereas Sasikala cannot boast of such a glorious personal history. Just as Nijalingappa and other members of the so called Syndicate expelled Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, in 1969, from the ruling Congress, Sasikala has been sacked from the post of General Secretary of the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu at a meeting of the party’s General Council on Tuesday.
It is a historic development in a sense, the biggest ever coup in Tamil Nadu and Indian politics in recent times. While Indira Gandhi had power and charisma to fight back and kick the old guard into oblivion, Sasikala is in a Bengaluru jail bereft of power or charm. Her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran, who is out of jail for now, is not in a position to salvage the situation. But he is fighting it out to the best of his ability. Would the courts come to the rescue of the beleaguered Sasikala, who appears to have been checkmated by O Panneerselvan (OPS) and Edapati Palani Swamy (EPS) duo? Is it time for both the leaders to celebrate? Perhaps not, at least as long as Dhinakaran is a free man to move earth and heaven for her. Watch out for him. He is still smiling gamely although his own appointment as Assistant General Secretary has been nullified. Dhinakaran has rejected the resolution of the General Council saying that the small group that met at a wedding hall has no validity. He claimed that the heart of the party is Sasikala, who has the numbers to fell the government if she so desires. Now, Dhinakaran might decide to bring down the government. A spell of governor’s rule followed by elections cannot be ruled out at this point in time.
The other prominent instances when the incumbent leader was thrown out include NTR in 1995 and, more recently, Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi party in 2014. NTR founded the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982 and stormed to power within nine months to establish the first ever non-Congress government in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. Soon after coming to power, he admitted his son-in-law Nara Chandrababu Naidu, a wily politicia, into his party. Then there was a revolt by the Finance Minister Nadendla Bhaskara Rao in August 1984, which was thwarted within a month and NTR was sworn in by Governor Shankar Dayal Sharma. There was another coup, this time by his sons-in-law with the help of his sons and daughters, with a few exceptions, in which NTR was thrown out of power. In the process, he was removed from the posts of the leader of the TDP Legislature Party and the president of the party. Chandrababu Naidu occupied the chair that was won by his father-in-law and he could sustain himself in power because of the providential help he got in the shape of NTR’s demise. Had NTR lived till the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the history of AP would have been entirely different.
The latest instance of the incumbent politician being sacked by one who was promoted by him was that of Mulayam Singh Yadav. His son, Akhilesh Yadav, the then chief minister of UP, got his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who founded and nourished the party, removed from the position of the president. In fact, it was Mulayam who made Akhilesh the chief minister in the hope of becoming a prime minister in case a coalition wins the elections or in the event of no national party getting a majority.
But unfortunately for him, NDA romped home with BJP alone bagging a comfortable majority in Lok Sabha in 2014. In the run up to 2017 assembly elections in UP, Akhilesh Yadav had established himself in the chair after shaking off his overbearing uncle Shivpal Yadav. Akhilesh wanted to steer the party in the elections in alliance with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. That the young scions lost the elections to a greater and shrewder warrior is now history. Stalin who crossed 60 years of age when his father M Karunanidhi, well into 90s, was still around as the party president, had preferred to wait for his turn instead of throwing out his own father. In all probability, he would be the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
Developments bordering the ridiculous
Tamil Nadu, which has been in throes of instability ever since J Jayalalithaa died in harness on December 5, 2016, has witnessed the ruling party taking ridiculous twists and turns. The new leadership has decided to do away with the post of General Secretary resolving that late Jayalalithaa would continue to be the party’s eternal GS. The General Council has amended the by-laws to expel Sasikala, who got herself nominated soon after Jayalalithaa’s funeral was over. All the appointments made by Dhinakaram while Sasikala was in jail have been declared null and void. BJP Rajya Sabha Member Prof. Subramanian Swamy described it as a ridiculous move and asked, “would she rule from the heaven?” While EPS and OPS appeared defiant, Dhinakaran looked firm in his conviction that the decision of the General Council would not stand the scrutiny of the law. He dared the ruling faction to go for elections if it is so sure of having the support of 117 MLAs. The EPS could prevent the fall of his government by reigning in the recalcitrant OPS, who was made deputy chief minister and party’s secretary. He rejected the resolution against Sasikala and himself. Whether the resolution will be legally valid has to be decided in court which was approached by Dhinakaran.
Opposition waiting in the wings
The main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, DMK, is literally waiting for the AIADMK government, which has been tottering for months, to fall. DMK’s ally, the Congress party, is waiting for elections. For Stalin, the acting president of the DMK, getting two dozens of MLAs of the ruling party to defect is not difficult given the galore of defections taking place across the country with ample encouragement from the BJP and other ruling parties in various states. The anti-defection law is observed only in its breach. However, Stalin had a sentiment to reckon with. He does not wish to form his first government with the help of defectors. This stand by Stalin had saved the EPS government till now. But the ruling party appears as though it does not need any help from the opposition to fall. So far, it enjoyed the support of the crafty Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was trying to fish in the troubled waters. Modi has seen to it that EPS continued in power with the help of a pliant acting governor in Ch Vidyasagara Rao who has been refusing to act on Dhinakaran's request. The PM was also instrumental in OPS joining hands with EPS. The Centre did not expect Dhinakaran to carry more than twenty MLAs with him to a resort. Even the threat held out by Tamil Nadu Speaker to take punitive action against the absconding MLAs did not deter the Dhinakaran’s camp. All eyes are now on Dhinakaran, who is resourceful enough to keep the pot boiling for some more time.