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08 Dec 2023, Edition - 3069, Friday

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AIADMK in a churn over leadership issue

Vidyashree Dharmaraj


Jayalalithaa’s longtime companion Sasikala emerges from her shadows but dissenting voices are being heard over her qualifications and abilities. Caste factor too could play an important role as powerful Goundars may push for their candidate for party chief. Meanwhile, people are raising questions over veil of secrecy surrounding Amma’s health, treatment and eventual death.

Film actress Gautami has voiced serious concerns of lakhs of Amma’s supporters on the veil of secrecy over chief minister Jayalalithaa’s illness, treatment and eventual death that has plunged AIADMK into a churn with the leadership tussle coming to the fore. Though there has been a smooth transition of government, given the gradual emergence of O Panneerselvam as a stop gap arrangement whenever needed by Amma in the past, he was sworn in as Chief Minister, after his election unanimously by party MLAs.

People sure did question the swiftness of the operation as also the secrecy over the entire episode with just a handful of people in the know of the actual happenings. The MLAs, who were present in the Apollo hospital were only gradually readied for the eventuality and they formally met at AIADMK headquarters late night, after her death was announced at 11.30 p.m. on December 5 and went straight to Raj Bhavan for swearing in of the entire existing cabinet headed by Panneerselvam.

But what followed after Jayalalithaa’s death is what is disconcerting to Amma’s bhakts as well as everyone who values democracy and rule of law. For sure, many questions are being raised on the entire matter, ever since news Jayalalithaa’s ill health came into public domain in bits and pieces long before she was admitted to Apollo Hospital on September 22.
Cadres visiting Amma’ s Poes Gardens residence, are emotional and blurt out wild allegations. The manner in which Amma’s long-time companion Sasikala Natarajan seemed to have taken complete charge of affairs – with chief minister and key ministers calling on her at Poes Gardens residence, top party officials too meeting her with deference – only increases the doubts about several unanswered questions.

At the political level, AIADMK circles are agog with speculations that Sasikala could be formally made party general secretary, something that could upset the caste equations as the dominant castes like Goundars, Vanniyars and Nadars may not accept chief minister and party general secretary to be from the same caste as Thevars.

What the AIADMK needs at this stage, as it has four and half years to go, is to present a united face with no dissensions, or else the party would weaken considerably, say political analysts. The DMK with close to 100 MLAs is only waiting in the wings for such an eventuality. But in all this, the role of the central government would be crucial and it remains to be seen if the BJP, that is trying to enter Tamil Nadu politically, would try and exploit the situation in any manner to its advantage, a political analyst who wished to remain unnamed said.

At the common people level, there is dismay and disbelief over the entire manner in which Jayalalithaa’s health was managed and they are raising several questions.

Giving voice to them, film actress Gautami, in a letter seeking prime minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in unravelling the truth relating to the circumstances leading to the death of Jayalalithaa.

“Her demise is all the more tragic and unsettling because of the circumstances over the past few months and the sheer volume of unanswered questions about our late Chief Minister’s hospitalisation, treatment, reported recovery and very sudden passing. There has been a near total blanketing of information regarding these matters,” Gautami said in her letter to the prime minister, which she tweeted as also posted on her blog.

Then she goes on to say, “Nobody had been allowed access to her and many dignitaries who visited her with deep concern were denied an opportunity to convey their wishes in person. Why this secrecy and isolation of a beloved public leader and the head of the Tamil Nadu government?,What/whose authority restricted access to the late Chief Minister? Who were the concerned persons who were making the decisions about Selvi Dr. J Jayalalithaa ji’s treatment and care when her health was apparently in such a delicate state? And who is responsible for these answers to the people? These and many other burning questions are being asked by the people of Tamil Nadu and I echo their voice in bringing them to your ears, sir,” the actress said requesting prime minister Modi to look into these.

In fact, activist Trafic Ramaswamy had petitioned the Madras High Court seeking details about Jayalithaa;s health conditions which was rejected.

But the activist maintained that people have a right to know as “She is a Chief Minister, a public servant. The public has elected her and we have every right to know about her health. We want to know who is running the government in her absence? Who is doing the work of the Chief Minister?”

DMK patriarch and chief, M Karunanidhi had asked for a white paper on Jayalalithaa’s health, a demand that was pilloried by AIADMK leaders who counter attacked saying that they never asked anything about Stalin’s health and why he visits abroad regularly. The AIADMK hid behind the patient confidentiality and right to privacy of an individual to block and ward off any queries in this direction.

Now, some AIADMK leaders and cadres are expressing doubts, albeit in private.

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