The results of the just concluded local body elections in seven northern and two southern districts of Tamil Nadu show that the AIADMK, which ruled the state continuously for two terms from 2011 to 2021, is in steady decline and the “double headed” leadership of Edappady Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam put together by the BJP to prop up the government after the death of the party’s supreme leader J Jayalalitha in 2016 is not working well.
The ruling DMK has swept the polls, leaving all others including the AIADMK, the main Opposition party, way behind. Every election the AIADMK contested under its dual leadership ended in failure. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the AIADMK won a solitary seat out of 39 and all its allies, including the BJP, drew a blank.
In the Assembly election earlier this year, the AIADMK was defeated soundly by the DMK. The golden jubilee of the founding of the AIADMK falls this year. There has been no spirited celebration so far. Founder-leader MG Ramachandran ignored all senior leaders in the party and groomed Jayalalitha, a glamorous film star, to succeed him.
She was able to fill his boots and build the AIADMK to greater strength. Similarly, Jayalalitha groomed her live-in companion VK Sasikala as her successor. The succession moved smoothly as the entire party requested Sasikala to take over as general secretary, a position Jayalalitha held, and she would have taken over as Chief Minister.
Panneerselvam who was the interim CM during Jayalalitha’s hospitalisation resigned to make room for Sasikala. At this juncture, the Supreme Court delivered its long-delayed judgment on Jayalalitha’s wealth case in which Sasikala was sentenced to undergo five years’ imprisonment. It was at this stage Palaniswami was selected as CM by Sasikala.
By the time Assembly elections were held, Sasikala was out of jail. Palaniswami who had tasted power for four years did not want to make way for her. Using his governmental power, he kept Sasikala out of the ruling party. After three consecutive electoral defeats, party workers have begun to realise they made a mistake in keeping Jayalalitha’s chosen successor out.
The AIADMK today is hardly the party of 2017. With unlimited resources at his disposal, Palaniswami could not run the party successfully. Panneerselvam, co-sharer of power with Palaniswami, was the first to realise that neither of them possesses the charisma to lead a political party like the AIADMK.
Though Sasikala never held any position in the AIADMK or the government that Jayalalitha led, she showed her mettle when her mentor died on 5 December 2016. She took control of Veda Nilayam in Chennai, residence of Jayalalitha, and took charge of the administration. One word from her was enough for the then Chief Minister to step down. She continues to hold sway over the AIADMK barring those she handpicked for positions of power.