Legally weak, politically strong

It seems unlikely that Jayalalithaa will contest the 2016 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, but her political career cannot be written off

October 02, 2014 01:51 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:02 pm IST

IN SUPPORT: Every person in the AIADMK is showing his or her loyalty to the leader. Picture shows partycadres protesting in Chennai against the conviction of Jayalalithaa. — PHOTO: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

IN SUPPORT: Every person in the AIADMK is showing his or her loyalty to the leader. Picture shows partycadres protesting in Chennai against the conviction of Jayalalithaa. — PHOTO: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

There is no substitute for demonstrable loyalty and it is an art the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has mastered. It was visible in abundant measure soon after the conviction and incarceration of its General Secretary Jayalalithaa on September 27. The crying during the oath taking of her replacement and a resolution by a city corporation against special judge John Michael Cunha who delivered the verdict, were all part of the act.

In the AIADMK, it is the season for every person to show his or her loyalty to the leader, and many bureaucrats and police officers would not want to be left behind. One such case seems to be the filing of an FIR against Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M.Karunanidhi, and his son M.K. Stalin, for charges of rioting, at the Royapettah police station in Chennai.

Fighting an old battle

While the FIR itself cannot set off alarm bells, it assumes significance in the backdrop of the virulent personal battle between the two leaders. This battle has manifested itself in “witch hunts,” such as the midnight arrest of Mr. Karunanidhi in 2001.

It is true that the disproportionate assets case, in which Jayalalithaa was convicted, was a case the DMK had worked on rigorously over the last 18 years and that her conviction and jail sentence will be celebrated by the party as a victory. The DMK is also expected to make repeated attempts at provoking the anger of the administration by celebrating the verdict and instigate retaliatory action that could help it mobilise a political campaign.

In the past, Jayalalithaa herself has been known for “outbursts.” With her administration trying to prove its loyalty to her, the real test this time is to see if she has learnt from her earlier mistakes. Any retaliatory action against her political rivals would only open her flank further and give a platform to the opposition.

In the present context, the legal situation of the AIADMK supremo must be clearly delinked from her political situation. Legally, she is on a weak wicket and will have to face a protracted and difficult court battle. Her best hope is to seek bail and a stay on the sentence from the Karnataka High Court and let the legal battle play out. At the moment it seems unlikely that she will contest the 2016 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.

Politically, however, Jayalalithaa has never been on a stronger wicket. The AIADMK’s near clean sweep victory of 37 out of 39 seats in the parliamentary elections in May, without an alliance with any party, underlined her position, leaving the opposition flabbergasted.

Unlike her earlier two terms as Chief Minister — from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2006 — her third time since 2011 has been much more circumspect. She has avoided or skirted controversies better than she has done in the past while the DMK has been at its lowest ebb.

Even if she cannot contest the 2016 Assembly polls, she will be the party’s Chief Minister in spirit as the AIADMK has revolved around her and it is not in its DNA to challenge her authority. The verdict will not impact her authority, control over the party or the sycophancy it displays towards her; it may only increase all of it, despite her not holding constitutional office.

The question is whether she will be satisfied being the “remote control” — the way Bal Thackeray controlled the Shiv Sena government — and ensure that the administration runs smoothly and efficiently as she fights a long legal battle.

The DMK has its own set of land mines to cross before the 2016 State elections as the verdict in the 2G case, in which Mr. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi is an accused, is expected. And the party is not in a position to turn Jayalalithaa’s conviction in a corruption case into a major political or electoral issue.

What lies ahead

Analysts in New Delhi seem to suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party may scent a chance and work with its Tamil Nadu allies and take advantage. This is, at best, wishful thinking. The 2014 Lok Sabha poll results suggest that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could only split the opposition vote and add to the tally of the winning Dravidian party.

Ultimately, in politics, one fundamental rule is to never write off a politician, no matter how bleak their future may seem. This is especially true in Jayalalithaa’s case. She has managed to recover from worse situations in the past, especially after a complete rout in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections after presiding over a “blatantly corrupt” administration between 1991 and 1996.

The key this time is not so much the verdict itself or what happens in the courts, but her actions as a politician and as a “remote control” Chief Minister.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.