Tamil Nadu in state of power vacuumDecember 24, 2016
With J Jayalalithaa’s passing away, there is no immediate successor to replace the former leader.
The passing away of Indian politician and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa is set to turn politics fluid in the state. The governing political party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), is struggling to find a successor for the chief ministerial position.
Jayalalithaa, 68, passed away on 5 December after suffering a heart attack. Her death was confirmed by Chennai's Apollo Hospital. The highly revered chief minister was one of the most influential and flamboyant politicians in the country where there were fears last week that her death may galvanise unrest among her fans and supporters.
For the time being, the party has picked O. Paneerselvam as the interim chief minister. Paneerselvan, one of Jayalalithaa’s most reliable deputies, has previously stood in for Jayalalithaa when she was arrested and sent to prison on corruption charges.
The party does not have any other leader who is similarly charismatic or popular. That is a vacuum. Right from its inception, the AIADMK has had popular leadership. For the first time, the party does not have a popular figure, Gnani, a veteran political analyst was quoted in an online article on BBC.
The AIADMK is seen either as the ruling party or main opposition for the last 40 years. It will take some time for members of the AIADMK party to find a successor and decide which political direction the party should take. The party was founded in 1972 by actor turned politician MG Ramachandran (MGR). Five years later MGR became the state’s chief minister where he steered his party to an electoral success.
Jayalalithaa was brought into the party by MGR in 1982 where she rose through the ranks quickly. In 1983 she managed to supersede many senior members and became the party’s propaganda secretary and by 1984 was appointed a seat in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) Parliament. MGR died in 1987 where Jayalalithaa is credited for carrying on his legacy. She won a resounding victory during the state assembly elections in 1991 and became the chief minister.
The AIADMK’s success was largely attributed to the charisma of Jayalalithaa after she assumed the chief ministerial seat. She was known for having total command by governing the party with an iron first. She did not give anyone the greenlight to challenge her and those who displayed any degree of rebellion were sacked from their jobs.
Many economists have criticised that the party has over-spent on free handouts. Nonetheless Tamil Nadu is still one of the wealthier states in India. The state’s economy has been growing at an average rate of 12% in the last decade, while the national average is eight per cent. The southern state is also the second biggest economy after Maharashtra. In 2015, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was approximately US$150bn.
Jayalalithaa was born in a Tamil Brahmin family where her father died when she was only two years old. She pursued her career in acting at the age of 16 and became the most sought after heroine in the industry. As a heroine, she appeared in multiple movies with MGR where rumours were sparked of them having a relationship. However she had no immediate close family. Her closest acquaintance Sasikala and her family became a second family for her. Despite the criticism that Jayalalithaa created a cult of personality, she exuded empathy for the poor by initiating social welfare programmes. Her most signature project was Amma Unavagams (Amma canteens) where over 350 canteen outlets opened that sold cooked food at heavily subsidised rates. Food such as sambhar rice was sold was Rs 5 (US$ 0.074) and idlis for Rs 1 (US$0.015). The canteens were popular across various demographics from IT executives to rickshaw drivers
Agriculture scientist Professor M.S. Swaminathan has commented that Jayalalithaa’s schemes were not only to further modern technology but also on the food security for the underprivileged.
“For this purpose, she established a network of Amma Unavagams to provide the needy food at a low cost,” Professsor Swaminathan was quoted in an online article on The Hindu.
It will take a while for the ruling party to find the right candidate who can bring forward MGR or Jayalalithaa’s legacy. Some are skeptical that Paneerselvam does not have the charisma to helm the chief ministerial seat. If all goes well, the ruling AIADMK party will complete its full term before the next state legislative assembly elections. The main worry for the party will be to face voters if elections are held in the interim period.
Blog post written by: Roshni Kapur