Jayalalithaa is larger than life in Tamil Nadu politics, four years after her death. Indeed, Amma remains the pivot around which this election is being fought and she continues to set the agenda for politicians in her absence.
As Tamil Nadu moves closer to elections, political parties in the state are getting battle-ready. But the ruling AIADMK and its leadership are also fighting another defining battle – the fight for Jayalalithaa’s legacy with chief minister EPS and OPS in one corner and Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran in another. This duel is the last thing AIADMK would have wanted before the crucial elections. In fact, all this demonstrates that this election in Tamil Nadu may be all about Jayalalithaa, some four years after the icon’s death.
Indeed, Sasikala’s release from prison couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for the AIADMK top brass. In recent days, Sasikala has staked claim for AIADMK’s election symbol and now for the party’s top post. These developments can only demoralise the party cadre and send conflicting signals to the electorate at large.
I’d like to delve a bit deeper into AIADMK’s leadership tussle and make two quick points here.
First, Sasikala realises that EPS and OPS are vulnerable to an extent in the run-up to the elections. Their vote-getting abilities are still unproven and AIADMK has still not been able to fill the vacuum left behind by Jaya – EPS and OPS’s last outing, the 2019 Parliamentary elections, turned out to be a disaster for the AIADMK. So, the recent moves by Sasikala to wrest control of the party is realistically nothing more than a pressure tactic to bring EPS and OPS to the negotiating table and stay relevant in Tamil Nadu politics in the near future.
I think it’s also important to understand the legacy left behind by Jayalalithaa that everybody is scrambling to inherit. Jayalalithaa believed in populism, learning from her mentor MGR. Think about it – Amma canteen or low-cost eateries, mid-day meal scheme, free rice, free mobile phones, etc have built an aura around Jaya, a pro-poor image that everybody wants to ride on in Tamil Nadu today.
So, when EPS claims that AIADMK has fulfilled all its promises to the electorate, make no mistake he’s referring to this populist legacy of Jayalithaa. While Stalin has dismissed EPS’s claims as a Himalayan lie, don’t be surprised if he announces a string of populist schemes for the state in the run up to elections. Only recently, Stalin declared the DMK would waive the loans self-help groups (SHGs) has picked up from primary agriculture cooperative societies. Expect many more doles and handouts in DMK’s manifesto. Economists may frown among populism, but it’s an indispensable part of Tamil Nadu politics.
The bottom line: Jayalithaa remains the pivot around which this election is being fought. The late AIADMK leader continues to set the agenda for politicians in her absence and has never been more relevant in Tamil Nadu politics than she is today. Indeed, Jayalalithaa is larger than life in Tamil Nadu, four years after her death.