In a decision that was at once personal and political, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa expelled her close friend V.K. Sasikala along with 13 close relatives from the primary membership of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. To cut all links with a friend and associate of nearly 30 years could not have been easy but this severance, it appears, has been in the making for quite a while. This is by no means the first time the problem of the Gang of Fourteen acting in a self-appointed extra-constitutional role and interfering in party affairs and in the administration has been faced but this time they evidently went too far. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa realised that while she could take responsibility for her own decisions and actions, she could not do this for what was being done without her approval or even her knowledge. The situation became intolerable as Ministers and officials hand-picked by Ms Sasikala began acting at her behest, behind the back of the Chief Minister. Allegations of spreading corruption also began doing the rounds. No less than the reputation of the current AIADMK government, which is backed by an overwhelming legislative majority and faces little external opposition, was at stake. The cleansing had to be total, and in full public view — half-measures would just not work.
This break is clearly in the public interest. For one thing, it gives Chief Minister Jayalalithaa the freedom — the space and the time — to concentrate on the tasks of governance and development without being distracted. The Chief Minister has made no secret of the fact that Tamil Nadu is in poor financial health, and the power situation is grim. Although several social welfare schemes are in place, especially a well-administered universal Public Distribution System that provides 20 kg of free rice to every eligible cardholder, much remains to be done in building on existing infrastructure and accelerating the overall development of the State. While the expulsions are expected to yield immediate results in governance, politically too Ms. Jayalalithaa and her party stand to gain. AIADMK cadres across the State broke into celebrations when they heard the news, bursting crackers, and making ritual offerings. It is also clear that the AIADMK's 150-member legislative contingent is solidly with Ms Jayalalithaa, whose popularity and voter acceptance are at their peak. Only the disproportionate wealth case in a special court in Bangalore, in which both she and Ms Sasikala face charges, remains a hurdle. But no matter how things pan out, Ms Jayalalithaa's bold action against the Gang of Fourteen marks a significant point in the history of Tamil Nadu politics.