If the mourning AIADMK cadre is worried about the longevity of its government in Tamil Nadu, it shows. Even though it puts up a brave face, the party rank and file resembles a clutch of headless chicken.
It is a given that the AIADMK government is fragile and comes with a 'handle with care' tag. The bets are on whether the AIADMK will self-destruct or whether needling from opposition DMK will make it collapse like a pack of cards. With caste-based fault-lines within the ruling party its stress points, not many are sure if the dispensation will last till 2021.
In such a situation, what is likely to be the DMK strategy? Just six months ago, it failed to capitalise on anti-incumbency against the Jayalalithaa government and lost a closely contested election.
The bets are on whether the AIADMK will self-destruct or whether needling from opposition DMK will make it collapse like a pack of cards.
Sources within the party point out it wants to project the image of a responsible opposition party. So for public consumption, it will maintain that what happens within the AIADMK is its internal matter. The DMK which has pushed all the right buttons in the last few days, by ensuring MK Stalin and other leaders paid their last respects to Jayalalithaa at Rajaji Hall, eulogising the former CM as a worthy opponent publicly in hoardings, does not want to put a step wrong. At least not publicly.
What this means is that the DMK won't be seen commenting if Sasikala Natarajan is chosen as the general secretary of the AIADMK. Having crossed swords with the AIADMK for four decades, the DMK knows the psychology of the emotional AIADMK cadre. It knows attacking Sasikala will make the cadre rally around its 'Chinnamma' (mother's younger sister, as Sasikala is referred to). The strategy will be to wait it out and not say a word about Sasikala.
But behind the scenes, work is going on to chip away at the AIADMK by playing mindgames. Whispers have acquired a furious momentum which indicate that several AIADMK MLAs and party activists are in touch with the DMK. No one is sure if indeed many AIADMK leaders have Stalin on speed dial, but in the age of smartphones, Whatsapp forwards have the unique ability to give momentum and artificial strength to even weak signals. That is enough to set the cat among other nervous AIADMK pigeons.
What the DMK would hope to exploit is the resentment among a significant section of the AIADMK to the presence of M Natarajan, Sasikala's husband at Rajaji Hall, where Jayalalithaa's body was kept in state on Tuesday.
What the DMK would hope to exploit is the resentment among a significant section of the AIADMK to the presence of M Natarajan, Sasikala's husband at Rajaji Hall, where Jayalalithaa's body was kept in state on Tuesday. Natarajan was persona non grata during Jayalalithaa's reign and many in the party are appalled that Sasikala has allowed him to worm his way back to centrestage.
In Jayalalithaa's regime, no MLA had the guts to question why he was not taken into the ministry or why he was dropped. With the fear factor reduced a bit now, AIADMK leaders are expected to show some spine. With several contenders for cabinet berths and other plum postings, it is quite likely that disgruntled MLAs in the 135-strong legislature party will turn dissidents. The DMK will look to fan this discontent.
At Rajaji Hall on Tuesday, AK Murugan, a Chennai district committee member of the AIADMK was grouchy. He predicted that the glue of power for another four and a half years and the possibility to make money, will ensure the MLAs stick together till 2021. "There will be a lot of give and take,'' added Rathnavelu, an AIADMK functionary who had come from Salem.
The DMK is wary of this. It knows the flip side of keeping quiet for too long is to allow AIADMK to consolidate itself, by distributing the goodies.
Sources in the DMK indicate that they are not looking at a chunk of AIADMK legislators walking out and helping Karunanidhi to form the government. The thinking in Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters is that the party that is looking to break new ground, will have to pander to the demands by the same dissatisfied souls. DMK is not interested in the crossover game and feels its best bet would be to ensure the government crumbles anytime in 2017 and fresh elections ordered. It feels a Stalin vs Sasikala electoral battle then will be a no-contest.
Another reason is that it does not know which side the Congress party's eight legislators will swing. Rahul Gandhi since September, has shown indications of leaning towards the Sasikala camp within the AIADMK, ignoring the DMK altogether. So cobbling together a government, DMK sources say, is not on the radar now.
Sources within the party point out it wants to project the image of a responsible opposition party. So for public consumption, it will maintain that what happens within the AIADMK is its internal matter.
Within the DMK too, changes are expected before 2016 calls it a day. Stalin is likely to be elevated as Working president if not full-time president. That will make his top billing within the party more official.
Stalin knows that fate has given him a lifeline. He could not deliver victory for the party in two successive elections. The DMK failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and lost out in the assembly elections in May this year. The party of the two leaves has to wither for the rising sun - and son - to emerge.
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