Tamil Nadu Election 2021: Rudderless and divided, AIADMK fast losing Jayalalithaa’s rich legacy

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Updated: Mar 30, 2021 4:08 PM

While the AIADMK is hoping to win the electoral battle by invoking Amma’s legacy and setting up a memorial, they have failed to keep the party united as Jayalalithaa did for years.

AIADMK Jayalalithaa EPS OPS Tamil Nadu Elections 2021The AIADMK under Jayalalithaa's regime was united and an iron hand ensured that petty political ambitions of individuals were never allowed to affect the party. (PTI)

Her footprint can be seen across Tamil Nadu, but four years after Jayalalithaa’s demise, the one place where it appears missing is her own party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Though there is no dearth of Amma’s pictures on the party’s hoardings, letter pads, flags and her name may echo in every speech by AIADMK leaders, the party with the ‘two leaves’ symbol is losing her rich legacy, and quickly so. While the passing away of DMK chief M Karunanidhi would have ensured a level playing field for both parties, internal differences within the AIADMK and a lack of strong leadership have ensured that is not the case.

A party and a leader that was once considered a heavyweight in national politics is not only reduced to playing second fiddle, it is set to reflect in the poll outcome come May 2. As per opinion polls, the Congress-DMK alliance under MK Stalin is set to return to power after 10 years by defeating the ruling AIADMK. The UPA is predicted to get 158 seats while the NDA, of which AIADMK is the largest constituent, is slated to win just 65. In the last election, the AIADMK under then chief minister Jayalalitha had contested the polls alone and won 136 of 234 seats.

So, is the AIADMK’s slide down a slippery slope really surprising? Not really if you look at the series of developments over the past year or so. In fact, the rumblings within the party began soon after the popular Chief Minister’s demise. Sample this. Within months, Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala was sent to jail in an asset case and she handed over the party reign to Edappadi K Palaniswami. The incumbent CM later resolved differences with rebel O Panneerselvam and sealed a power-sharing deal as OPS was given the deputy CM post. However, the two warring factions — each headed by the CM and his deputy — were actually far from resolving their differences.

And the war played out in full public view less than a year before the polls. Be it OPS’ demand of an 11-member steering committee to oversee the party affairs or the general secretary post for himself, the two sides were often at loggerheads with each other. Add to that the battle between the Thevar and Gounder communities (both listed as OBC) for dominance within the party, and you see a party virtually heading to a vertical split. EPS is a Gounder which is seen as having the upper hand in the current regime, a shift from Jayalalithaa’s rule when Thevars called the shots. For context, Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala is a Thevar.

While the AIADMK is hoping to win the electoral battle by invoking Amma’s legacy and setting up a memorial, they have failed to keep the party united as Jayalalithaa did for years. The AIADMK under Jayalalithaa’s regime was united and an iron hand ensured that petty political ambitions of individuals were never allowed to affect the party. Things, however, went downhill soon after EPS and OPS took over the AIADMK, it was more about individuals than party and governance.

Ever since the AIADMK allied with the BJP, which could not happen during Jayalalithaa’s tenure, the ruling party has been facing criticism for surrendering itself to the saffron party. Jayalalithaa never compromised with projects which she considered detrimental to Tamil Nadu. She had kept national parties waiting at her door. There is a view that the situation is quite the opposite now.

Today’s AIADMK is no more the party with military-like strict discipline and it struggles with factionalism. The compulsion of keeping the government alive is perhaps the only factor that has kept them from falling apart so far. With Sasikala opting out of the political race and TTV Dhinakaran floating his separate party, the road ahead is not easy for EPS and OPS.

Though the AIADMK has managed to keep the BJP limited to just 20 seats in this election, this will give enough ammunition to opposition DMK and Congress to target the ruling party. The result was evident during the 2019 Lok Sabha election which saw AIADMK’s collapse with DMK and Congress winning 31 seats out of 39. The AIADMK under the current leadership lacks the magic and charm possessed by then CM J Jayalalithaa.

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