Jayalalithaa demise and political realignment In Tamil Nadu
by Naagesh Padmanaban on 05 Jan 2017 4 Comments

The passing away of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on December 6, 2016 has cast a pall of gloom over the state. At 68, she was relatively young and had lot of public service left in her. But fate willed otherwise. The passing away of Jayalalithaa signals a phase of uncertainty and tumultuous changes over the coming days that can recast Tamil Nadu politics forever. It will most certainly reverberate in Delhi too.


Huge mass of mourners and supporters gathered for the funeral to bid farewell, a gathering that was unprecedented in recent times. The credit for the orderly conduct of the funeral goes to the police and civil administration as well as central forces. The invisible hand of the Central government was evident all over – from the meticulous funeral arrangements to strict enforcement of law and order by deploying central forces and thus preventing riots and unrest in the state. The complete absence of riots at the death of an important leader was indeed unprecedented and a pleasant surprise for the people in Tamil Nadu.


The demise of the Chief Minister could not have come at a worse time for the ruling AIADMK. Absent Jayalalithaa, the party is nothing. For the huge mass of mourning supporters, the death of the leader was a double whammy – loss of a beloved leader and the threat of disintegration of the party that could throw them out of power in the not very distant future.


The potential for trouble comes from within the party as well as from the overall political dynamics in the state. The AIADMK, as most are aware, is a party where the personal charisma of the founder M.G Ramachandran and his protégé Jayalalithaa carried the shots. Nobody else mattered. There were no designated heir(s) or succession plans. This has suddenly left a power vacuum that now threatens to kill the party itself. And the threat is real and could happen sooner than later.


The current crop of leaders like O. Panneerselvam, the new Chief Minister or Sasikala Natarajan (now interim general secretary of the party), are neither fiery orators nor do they have sizeable committed following and hence can by no means live up to the ‘theatrical expectations’ of the Tamil people. They simply do not fit the bill and are at best stop gap leaders who can temporarily delay the disintegration.


The real problem is that this tiny cabal could actually end up as puppets to larger extra-constitutional political configurations. The demise of the leader has undeniably left a power vacuum in Fort George, the administrative headquarters of the state, leaving the arena open exclusively to a charismatic leader with a large following.


The current political scenario obtaining in Tamil Nadu offers succor and fuel for political upheavals. The state is in a deadly calm before new political storms rage across the state, sooner than later. Let us see why.


The main opposition party, the DMK, is a house divided. Its leader, M. Karunanidhi, is 92 years old and not in the best of health. He has however, managed to push the infighting away from public eye - at least for the present. If insiders are to be believed, the party faces an uncertain future as it struggles to contain dissent and may see a two-way or three-way split.


As regards the rest of the political parties – most are extremist fringe elements that are confined to district level influence. In any case, these parties may not be able to appeal to broader segments of Tamils and thus may not pose a challenge to the major parties. However, they can play a significant role in a hung election that would require a coalition government. But, unfortunately for them, the demonetization of high denomination currency notes has dried up their sources of funds and hence they may find themselves too enervated to play any significant role.


The Congress party has no grassroots support or organization and eliminates itself from any significant role in the political dynamics of the state.


The BJP and its sister organizations have been visible and over the years have built significant grassroot level assets in Tamil Nadu. However, the BJP has not mustered the political will so far to contest elections all by itself or contest more seats. Will the Tamils countenance a government led by the BJP? That is the million-rupee question that has no easy answers.


Having said that, there is a strong possibility for the BJP allying with the rump of AIADMK and ‘a charismatic leader with a large following’. This ‘charismatic leader’ could be superstar Rajnikanth. The latter has assiduously avoided entering politics, but has all along nurtured big political ambitions. If his recent statements are any indication, it may not be a surprise if the superstar steps out and announces his willingness to ‘work for the upliftment of Tamils’.


The demise of Jayalalithaa has irreversibly pushed Tamil Nadu to the edge of a political tipping point. Irrespective of the permutation of political parties and the political formations that they will spawn, some things will change for ever. One is Dravidian politics. The other is the emergence the millennials or the smart-phone generation on the electorate.


The Dravidian brand of politics that Tamil Nadu has witnessed for over six decades, was nothing more than a concoction of pseudo rationalism, fake atheism, selective hate mongering and an unabashed anti-Hindu demagoguery all encapsulated as an ‘undying love for Tamil’. As pointed out by many experts, Dravidian ideology in reality was nothing more than a clever tool to break, rather than unite India. It was a perversion that kept Tamil Nadu economically backward for many decades.  But it has long outlived its utility.  Truth be told, Jayalalithaa all along abhorred this corrosive and self-destructive ideology and had stopped it in its tracks. In her demise, she has only catalyzed and hastened the full dismantling of this specious ideology.


The other factor contributing to the coming political upheaval is the emergence of the millennials or smart-phone generation. This demographic is growing fast and commanding an increasing say in all affairs in India and Tamil Nadu is no exception. Better educated and moneyed, these millennials are cosmopolitan in outlook and live in a selfish zone beyond the pale of the dreary Dravidian demagoguery, by sheer accident, rather than choice. They can think on their own and would be extremely difficult to influence. Yet this younger generation will pass the final verdict on the political future of the state. The political parties in the state are clueless and have not even courted them.


The death of Jayalalithaa may have just triggered a massive political domino effect. The coming political upheavals in Tamil Nadu could be an eye opener for repeat performances across India. History, they say repeats itself. 

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