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Without a charismatic leader at its helm and not having power, a question mark hangs over the future of the AIADMK, one of the two poles in the largely bipolar political situation in the state. Are its stars on the ascendant or is it curtains for the party?

Few thought the party will become a big force when MGR was expelled from the DMK and the party was founded in October 17. Its win in the Dindigul bypolls and wresting power in the 1977 Assembly elections were beyond many people’s expectations.

MGR, who remained in power until his death, was the unquestioned leader of the party, too.

MGR’s wife Janaki became chief minister after his death but defeat in the 1989 Assembly elections led to her sidelining. Standing alone and leading a faction, Jayalalithaa did much better than Janaki in the elections. This led to her bringing the AIADMK under her complete control.

Her friend, Sasikala, who recently finished serving a prison term for accumulating assets disproportionate to her known sources of income, is seeking a repeat of that feat. But it is certainly not an easy act to emulate.

Her nephew TTV Dhinakaran tried to take over the party but had to leave and form a separate political party. Though he won impressively in the bypoll at RK Nagar he was unable to repeat the performance in subsequent elections, leading to his marginalization. In this situation, the crowds that came out to see Sasikala on her way to Chennai following her release and during her visit to Jayalalithaa’s memorial may not be bellwether on her efforts to take over the AIADMK.

What facilitated Jayalalithaa was her performance in the elections. With the two-leaves symbol frozen and contesting on the cock symbol, she proved who was the real successor to MGR. Sasikala will have to demonstrate her electoral pull for the party to come under her control. But as per law she cannot contest elections for another six years. The Assembly elections are likely five years away. So she has few opportunities for that in the immediate future.

Today’s AIADMK leaders, OPS and EPS, may have been subservient to her when Jayalalithaa was alive but they will not be willing to accept her leadership now. EPS who became CM brought a rebellious OPS under her fold and ruled the state. He brushed off the Dhinakaran challenge, managed the BJP and completed the AIADMK’s term. Winning 68 seats was a creditable feat for the AIADMK in the 2021 elections.

The future is certainly challenging for the AIADMK though state politics continues to be bipolar despite the AIADMK’s poor showing in the local body polls. In its 50th year, the party is navigating unchartered waters by not having a charismatic leader at its helm.

EPS has slowly strengthened his hands in the party. Sasikala may want to fish in troubled waters created by the OPS-EPS factional intrigues. Former AIADMK ministers and partymen are facing the heat of corruption inquiries and so on now. This would tamp down efforts to rejuvenate the party. Keeping the front together is another key task with the PMK announcing it is going alone.

Functioning as a constructive opposition will serve the party well. This would mean staying on guard and challenging the ruling DMK if it takes any missteps. Opportunities would present themselves on this front when the DMK government’s honeymoon period gets over and problems start mounting.

Former minister RM Veerappan, who was MGR’s shadow through his film and political career, says the party is finished and cannot come back to power. Sasikala, who was a shadow of Jayalalithaa, has said that MGR and Jayalalithaa will save the party. Which shadow is throwing light on the party’s future remains to be seen.

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