10/08/2017 5:44 PM IST | Updated 24/09/2018 6:55 PM IST

Why Removing The Sasikala Family From The AIADMK Is As Difficult As Genetic Engineering

It’s a fight for survival.

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In Tamil Nadu's never ending political soap opera, the ruling faction of the AIADMK led by chief minister E Palanisamy (EPS) is trying to woo back the dwindling viewer-loyalty yet again by canceling the appointments in the party made by TTV Dinakaran. But it's still not a major twist because both Dinakaran and his discredited aunt VK Sasikala are holding on to the top two posts in the party.

The meeting of the ruling faction convened by EPS this morning hasn't yet removed Sasikala, who had been appointed the general secretary of the party following the death of J Jayalalithaa last December, or Dinakaran whom Sasikala had appointed as her deputy. Practically, axing only those appointed by Dinakaran means nothing, but another empty posturing to the people that they are no Sasikala cronies.

The real twist will be the removal of Sasikala and Dinakaran. Does EPS, who incidentally is an appointee of Sasikala and Dinakaran themselves, have it in him to betray his mentors? All that the resolution in today's meeting would say was that Sasikala's appointment was temporary and that Dinakaran's post was against party rules. In fact, it's an old argument that has gone stale.

The real twist will be the removal of Sasikala and Dinakaran.

In a press conference convened later in the afternoon, Dinakaran scoffed at the decision and said that Sasikala was formally elected as the general secretary by the same set of people and that his appointment was valid because it was done by the general secretary. He also cited precedence to counter the charge by both OPS and EPS factions that his return to the party was illegal because he had been removed by Jayalalithaa long ago. People have been expelled and taken back in the party, he said.

The motive of the ruling EPS faction behind today's resolution is to retain power by bringing back the breakaway group of O Panneerselvam (OPS) and to cleanse itself of the blemish of the unpopular Sasikala family so that it can win back some public trust. The moment Sasikala took control of the party after J Jayalalithaa died, the party's popularity nosedived and never ever recovered. OPS walked away claiming to be a man of principles and virtue to a rousing welcome by the general public and the media, while Sasikala foisted a pliable EPS as a chief minister after a long-winding drama in which both the centre and the Governor seemed to have shown some undue interest.

But when Sasikala went to a Bangalore jail in the disproportionate assets case and Dinakaran was taken away by Delhi police for allegedly bribing EC officials, the reputation of the EPS fraction, which incidentally was also the Sasikala faction, hit a new low. To protect itself, the EPS fraction publicly distanced itself from Sasikala and Dinakaran, and some prominent leaders even said that both had nothing to do with the party. Still, they were not officially removed from their posts. In fact, in April itself some of the ministers had "ousted" Dinakaran and his family from the party, but there was no follow up action to formalize the decision.

The moment Sasikala took control of the party, it's popularity nosedived and never ever recovered.

Curiously, Dinakaran then beat a strategic retreat and said that he "won't be the reason to weaken the party" and that he was not against the merger of the EPS and OPS factions. Obviously, he chose to lie low to tide over the situation. On his return from Delhi, where he was jailed for the bribery case, he began to exercise his authority after a brief wait and made 44 appointments that included 18 new organizing secretaries. He was about to take a statewide tour to garner support from the party units soon. Dinakaran had visited Sasikala in jail and seemed to have been resolved to taking control of the party.

EPS had no choice but to act now for two reasons - one, to keep Dinakaran at bay so that the party apparatus was still with him and two, to woo back OPS, who reportedly is backed by the BJP and the centre.

But it's unlikely to work because extricating the party from the Sasikala family without damage is as complex as genetic re-engineering, something that's impossible under the present circumstances. Sasikala and her family have intricately hard-wired themselves to the party-DNA over the last several years under the patronage of Jayalalithaa. Sasikala was not just an aide to Jaya, but the mover and shaker within the party and the government. When she came out of Jaya's shadows in January, what the state saw was not a meek domestic help, but a wily politician who didn't crack under pressure.

The second most important economy in India continues to be in suspended animation.

If EPS moves an inch, Dinakaran will put down his government because he has 37 MLAs with him. EPS's continuation in power depends on the support of just five MLAs - if they switch sides, he will lose the majority in the assembly. Even after getting the OPS faction on his side, he won't survive if Dinakaran decides to topple him.

The problem is for EPS and OPS, it's about their authority in the party; but for the Sasikala family, it's about survival itself. They have so much at stake that requires political protection and letting it go will be suicidal. Although nobody knows the depth of their resources, it may be easily surmised that they are in it for the long haul because they don't have another choice. It's a fight for survival. Are they going to win in the long run? Probably not, but fighting back is not a choice, but a necessity.

It's really difficult to predict if EPS and his faction would be able to get rid of Sasikala and Dinakaran unless the EC declares null and void the former's election as the general secretary of AIADMK. If that happens, it will mark their end in the party with many of their loyalists also walking away. If that doesn't happen, all that EPS can do will be to make such noises. The attitude of Dinakaran at his press conference was clear that he was not going to give up and it's not going to be easy at all for EPS.

The BJP will be keenly watching. Its best bet will be to bring EPS and OPS together, keep them in power and go to elections with them in 2019. Going with only the OPS faction will only fragment the AIADMK votes. Probably, the BJP wouldn't mind the government falling and going to fresh elections although the risks are very high because the present government is highly unpopular.

Meanwhile, the second most important economy in India continues to be in suspended animation.

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