The absence of a second rung leader in party, government leaves Tamil Nadu on auto-pilot mode
The condition of Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa “continues to improve” but she needs to “stay longer in the hospital”, read the CM’s latest medical bulletin. The 68-year-old CM was admitted to Chennai’s Apollo Hospital on September 22 for “fever and dehydration”. The lack of clarity regarding her health is giving fodder to the opposition.
Thronging outside the hospital, party workers and well wishers have been holding fasts and offering prayers for the speedy recovery of their beloved Amma, as she is popularly known. There are even reports of an AIADMK supporter committing suicide. Her prolonged absence is not only causing emotional upheaval among the people, but is also causing “administrative disarray” in the state.
Without Jayalalithaa there is neither the party nor the government; both are rudderless. “She is the sole decision maker and the rest just follow her orders”, says BR Haran, Chennai-based political commentator. In fact, even when she was jailed in the disproportionate assets case, finance minister O Panneerselvam, who took over as CM, and others were just carrying out what she was asking them to do. “Now, possibly Jayalalithaa is not even in a conscious state. So, the administration has literally come to a standstill. One can expect the governor to coordinate with the ministers in the coming days,” he adds.
The absence of the head of the government will soon start reflecting in the state. However, if the ministers cooperate with the governor, the administration may smoothen with the help of the central government. “If Jayalalithaa has to stay longer, DMK chief Karunanidhi will start poaching AIADMK. If Jayalalithaa’s close associate Sasikala and others are send to jail in the disproportionate assets case, his job would become easier,” says Haran.
Moreover, cancellation of local body elections will not have much impact, though DMK may feel happy about it. The postponement may help DMK a little bit. But the absence of Jayalalithaa’s campaign may cost her party, he says.
On October 4, the Madras high court set aside the notification for civic polls. As a result, the polls scheduled for October 17 and October 19 stood cancelled. The order was passed on a plea moved by the DMK, which had sought adequate reservation for schedules tribes as mandated by the constitution.
The local body polls are essential and this ruling could have wider consequences for the conduct of local polls in future, says political observer Sam Rajappa. Jayalalithaa was admitted on September 22 and the state election commission announced polls on September 25. This means political inputs were lacking as Jayalalithaa was in hospital. If Jayalalithaa was in charge, these things would not have happened. She would have looked well into the management of local body election, he argues.
Also, the state doesn’t know what to do next in the Cauvery water sharing dispute, which has become a major issue, adds Rajappa.
The AIADMK government is structured in such a way that only one person takes decisions. And as a result it is Tamil Nadu which suffers the most. It is time that one of the ministers or MLAs takes charge as the acting chief minister. “Every party should have a second line of leadership but AIADMK never allowed that to happen. What is happening now is that 30-35 MLAs are sending feelers to DMK. This is taking place because of the absence of leadership in the ruling party. If they get leadership, they will be able to keep the flock of MLAs together,” Rajappa adds.
Another political observer Peer Mohammed thinks that there is no need for an interim chief minister. When MG Ramachandran (popularly known as MGR) was hospitalized for long 32 years ago, this did not happen. “The opposition is asking the governor to appoint an interim chief minister so that they can buy some MLAs,” he says.
As of now Sheela Balakrishnan, a former chief secretary and current advisor to Jayalalithaa, and state chief secretary Rama Mohana Rao are running the state administration. It is understood that these two people can read Jayalalithaa’s mind. So they are the ones who are dictating in running the government, says Mohammed.
A senior bureaucrat in the state government not wishing to be named agrees that no major decisions are being taken in this period. “Only daily and routine works or those announced in the budget are on,” he says.