Sasikala's parole could result in a tectonic shift in AIADMK politics

opinion | Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
TS Sudhir

With Team Sasikala applying for parole for its leader from Bengaluru prison for 15 days, there will be no dearth of political fireworks this Diwali month.

Though on paper, the parole is for Sasikala to meet and spend time with her ailing husband M Natarajan, the political implications of a Sasikala out in the open will be ignored only by the politically ignorant. 

Natarajan is undergoing treatment at Gleneagles Global hospital for liver and kidney failure. His condition which was described as critical as he awaits liver and kidney transplant is now said to have deteriorated further. He is encephalopathic (term used to indicate disorder or disease of the brain) and is on the waiting list with the Tamil Nadu Organ Sharing for donor liver transplantation. 

The Karnataka Prisons department will take a final decision on whether or not to grant parole to Sasikala and if yes, for how many days. The possibility of a shorter period than what has been asked for is not ruled out, given that she has been in prison only since February this year. She was convicted in the Disproportionate Assets case by the Supreme court and sentenced to four years in jail. 

Sasikala and Natarajan have been an estranged couple for quite some years now, even though he played a critical part in ensuring her proximity to Jayalalithaa in the late 80s. Considered the brain behind Sasikala's moves, he was subsequently declared persona non grata by Jayalalithaa. Which is why his presence at Jayalalithaa's burial on 6 December in the company of Rahul Gandhi in Chennai raised eyebrows. In a television interview, he even took credit for protecting Jayalalithaa from her detractors. Natarajan's entry so soon after Jayalalithaa's demise created unease among many in Tamil Nadu and even AIADMK cadre who saw this as a sign that the family that had been sidelined was returning with a bang. 

Even if Sasikala is granted parole, it is a given that conditions will be imposed which will make it absolutely impossible for her to engage in any sort of political activity. But what is interesting is that she is coming out at a time when Tamil Nadu is in the midst of a number of possible political developments.

For one, depending on the Madras High court verdict, the Governor could order a floor test in the Tamil Nadu assembly. The presence of Sasikala in Chennai will, without a doubt, influence several fence-sitters, especially those who have not managed a good deal from the Palaniswami regime. 

Given the hold that Sasikala has over a significant number of AIADMK legislators and district secretaries, it will put several leaders in a dilemma because meeting Sasikala will make them marked men in Palaniswami's eyes and not meeting Sasikala would mean compromising their long-term interests. That is because most believe EPS is only a temporary phenomenon, who has traction only because he occupies Fort St George now. Also since the ruling faction is surviving in power despite its minority status, any tectonic shift in the political plates can only make chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam uneasy. 

What political watchers will look out for is the kind of political traction Sasikala receives while she is in Chennai. Since the AIADMK rank and file will have the figleaf of calling on her to enquire about Natarajan's health, quite a few unexpected faces may land up at the hospital. That would be enough to set the cat among the pigeons as, despite the merger, there is immense trust deficit between the EPS and the OPS factions of the ruling AIADMK. 

Also, do not rule out Sasikala going into Poes Garden. All said and done, Veda Nilayam remains her residence on paper, listed even in her Voter ID. If she lands up there, it will create a flutter, given the government's decision to convert the house into Jayalalithaa memorial. 

It is in this context that the sedition cases that have been slapped by Salem police against TTV Dhinakaran and 16 of his supporters for distributing pamphlets on NEET have to be viewed. The pamphlets were critical of the state and Union governments for following a policy that led to the suicide of Anitha, a medical aspirant on 1 September after she failed to secure a medical seat. The fact that Section 124A that deals with sedition has been invoked, suggests an intention to muzzle Dhinakaran's voice of dissent. 

It is obvious that EPS has decided to borrow the Jayalalithaa template of using the draconian law to bulldoze any opposition. A case of sedition was also booked by the Jaya government in 2015 against folk singer Kovan for criticising the liquor policy of her government. The government claimed that the lyrics of the song `Moodu Tasmacai Moodu' (Shut down the TASMAC liquor shops) were seditious and slanderous. The court subsequently granted Kovan bail.

Given the see-saw battle history of the AIADMK since December 2016, Sasikala's parole may just translate into a strategic time out for the beleaguered aide of the late chief minister. The Tamil Nadu Political League has got into the business end of the competition. 

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