Drama, factions, beaches: nothing new in Tamil Nadu politics
If the established Dravidian parties can't get their act together, return to rule by movie stars is a real possibility in this film-crazy state
The people of southern India’s Tamil Nadu are feeling cheated. They have a minority government that provides minimal governance.
The party the greatest number of them voted for – the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazkagam (AIADMK) – is currently short of that magic number, 118, required for a majority in the state’s assembly.
The crisis began when 19 AIADMK lawmakers loyal to tainted leaders VK Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran, her nephew, withdrew their support for the government led by Chief Minister E Palaniswamy (popularly known as “EPS”) on August 22.
This followed a day after a merger of factions led by EPS and O. Paneerselvam (“OPS”) – a loyalist to the late AIADMK matriarch J. Jayalalithaa – that pushes Dhinakaran out of the party and out of government.
With the government precarious, the AIADMK’s arch rival – the DMK party – has sought to force a vote of confidence in EPS. Dhinakaran hopes this will topple the government.
Tamils are fiercely proud of their Dravidian culture. But they also know the AIADMK and DMK are two faces of the same coin
In a new twist, however, the assembly speaker – P Dhanapal – has raised the issue of whether the 19 lawmakers might be sanctioned under anti-defection laws. EPS will win the “floor test” if these lawmakers are disqualified.
Dhinakaran’s loyalists are enjoying a “paid holiday” at the Windflower Resort Spa in neighboring Puducherry state. A local TV channel showed them playing volleyball, sitting on swings and a see-saw meant for children, and walking on the beach.
The scene is reminiscent of what happened in February at Golden Bay beach resort in Kuvathoor, an episode that later sparked a bribery scandal. The only difference is that Sasikala – who then appeared to be pulling the strings – is now serving a jail term in Bangalore in an illegal assets case.
Dhinakaran likely thought AIADMK lawmakers would make a beeline for Windflower if Sasikala had won an appeal against her conviction. However the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected her petition.
People in Tamil Nadu want to know why the 19 lawmakers are at a luxury resort when they should be serving their constituents. They also wonder whether lawmakers are been bribed again, after the earlier Kuvathoor cash-for-votes scandal.
Dravidian politics endured volatility and high drama since 1977, from which date it has been ruled by a succession of film industry bigwigs including MG Ramachandran (“MGR,” an actor), M Karunanidhi (a screenwriter) and J Jayalalithaa (who was an actress).
After Jayalalithaa’s death in December, political uncertainty has gripped the state as she neglected to groom a successor. In the circumstances, politics was reduced to a bitter leadership struggle between the AIADMK’s OPS and EPS factions, until their merger.
More stars to step in?
Most Tamils are sick of the AIADMK’s factional politics. They want a change. Step forward two veteran Tamil actors who look primed to revive rule-by-stars in this film-crazy state.
Bharatiya Janata Party, in power nationally, is urging 66-year-old Rajnikanth (Rajni) to take the political plunge and fill the vacuum left behind by Jayalalithaa’s death. Even if he insists on standing independently of the BJP, the party will be happy to support him. The actor, who has a large fan base around Asia, has yet to make any announcement.
Kamal Hassan too has hinted at entering politics. A rationalist, he recently urged people to launch mass protests against the AIADMK’s political circus which, according to him, has made clowns of voters.
Tamils are fiercely proud of their Dravidian culture. But they also know the AIADMK and DMK are two faces of the same coin. If those parties continue to ignore their core interests, they may well lend their support to a third front led by the likes of Rajni or Hassan.