As many as 187 locations across different cities in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in the country were raided the morning after the first anniversary of demonetisation. The intention was to make it seem those who had evaded tax were on target. But did it convince Tamil Nadu? Not quite because a majority of those raided were members of VK Sasikala's Mannargudi clan. Given that the family has been a thorn in the flesh of the powers-that-be in Chennai and New Delhi, the political angle to the raids is what lent it intrigue.
Jaya TV, Namadhu MGR, Jazz Cinemas and Midas Distilleries were among the several firms raided. The sleuths walked into the homes of TTV Dhinakaran in Chennai and Sasikala's brother Dhivakaran in Thanjavur and just about every branch of the Mannargudi family tree received an early morning knock on the door. Even Jayalalithaa's Kodanadu estate in the Nilgiris, which is co-owned by Sasikala, and Sasikala's husband M Natarajan's residence were reportedly not spared.
What makes these I-T raids significant is that this is by far, the most definitive assault on the Mannargudi empire by the establishment in the last two decades. The family was the real power during Jayalalithaa's reign, controlling both the politics and business deals in Tamil Nadu. And even though the Sasikala faction is no longer wielding power in Tamil Nadu, it has not dented its financial clout.
While the family will have to obviously explain its books, the raids, whether the BJP likes it or not, will be seen as an attempt to put the AIADMK house in order. It is an open secret that the Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam duo has New Delhi's blessings. Last month, their dairy development minister Rajendra Balaji went to the extent of publicly claiming that ``Narendra Modi will take care of everything''.
Which is why these raids are being seen as political messaging. To the 19 MLAs in the Dhinakaran camp who are still standing by his side, despite being suspended by the Speaker. It will also be construed as an attempt to scare the 8 to 10 odd MLAs who Dhinakaran claims, are his sleeper cells in the ruling AIADMK. Cross the line at your own peril, is how these raids will be interpreted as, by anyone who harbours intentions of moving to the Dhinakaran camp.
The raids are also meant to dent Dhinakaran's popularity among the cadre. Despite the majority of the MLAs and MPs siding with EPS, intelligence sources have picked up that Sasikala's nephew has been attracting crowds in the districts. While the ruling camp credits his financial muscle for organising the response, they would hope the raids will dent his image among the cadre.
But will this raid, especially because it includes Jaya TV and Namadhu MGR (the mouthpiece of the AIADMK) backfire? Quite likely because even though the two-party organs are controlled by Sasikala's family, they are seen as part of the Amma legacy. Talk to any AIADMK activist and he will tell you that he relies only on either of the two mouthpieces to tell him ``the true picture'' or in Jayalalithaa's time, what Poes Garden thought. The fact that EPS and OPS did nothing when I-T sleuths walked into ``Jayalalithaa's media empire'', won't be taken kindly by the cadre. It is more than likely that Dhinakaran will make this the cornerstone of his campaign against EPS-OPS.
It is also significant that just about every company owned by the Mannargudi family has been raided. It is not as if they flourished only after December 2016, when Jayalalithaa passed away. If the allegations of financial impropriety are true, it indirectly makes the former CM complicit in encouraging Sasikala and Co. to loot Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK rank and file would not take kindly to any blemish on its Amma.
It also exposes how the political culture in India works. Look the other way when a person friendly to you is in power and raid when it suits you politically.
In the past one year, since Jayalalithaa passed away, central agencies have been in hyperactive mode. But the fact that none of the cases - be it the raids on former chief secretary Rammohana Rao in December 2016 or Health minister C Vijayabasker in April or the allegations of bribing an Election Commission official against Dhinakaran - have managed to nail any of the persons in question, makes the operations look suspect.
As the raids went on at Jaya TV, employees at the channel claimed their editor had been told by I-T officers not to conduct any debates on the raids. The line that a witch-hunt is on against anyone standing up to the governments in Chennai and Delhi, has been taken.