Tamizh Nadu Lives in Interesting Times

Warning: Long Post / Rambles in some parts

The old Chinese curse: "may you live in interesting times". It is considered a curse, because interesting things to hear and read are often tumultuous to live through. "Interest" in a particular time period, presupposes life altering changes to countries or even civilizations. For example, volcanic eruptions produce some of the most fertile soil known to humans; but you won't want to be near one when it erupts.

Tamizh Nadu is going through some interesting times. The events are big - and in a subtle way, interconnected.

First was the demise of the reigning CM, Madam JJ last year. In what seemed to be a smooth transition, her prime loyalist Mr. O. Panneer Selvam (OPS) took over the reigns of the government. It was no surprise, since he had been her choice for CM whenever JJ was forced to not occupy it. Interestingly, the controversial friend and confidante(?) of Ms. JJ - Mrs. Sasikala Natarajan (SN), was found to hold the centre stage during the funeral.

Second event was Jallikkattu. The way it transformed into a people's movement had several dimensions to it. What started off as a genuine people's movement got infiltrated by vested interests within days. There were two outcomes: the passing of the ordinance and the aftermath. I am going to skip on the first one and focus on the second. In the aftermath of the ordinance, vested interests threatened the ability of the government to conduct a R-Day parade. Besides this, the TN government also helped in the raid on a Chief Secretary (top IAS in a state), anda crack down on the Sand Mafia. It was a passage through fire (1) for OPS as an administrator.

The Third event was when the AIADMK MLAs picked SN as their General Secretary, and then subsequently as the CM candidate. In an unpleasantly (for this blogger) surprising move, OPS tendered his resignation. There were talks that SN would be crowned the CM of TN on the 8th of Feb, 2017. In a surprisingly pleasant move - OPS declared on the 7th of Feb (close to midnight) that he won't submit to SN's will / leadership. In that sense, he threw the gauntlet, and let SN pick up the fight. This was trials through fire (2) for OPS, in a short few months. In this fight, the people have - expectedly - sided with OPS.

These three events must be seen as a continuum of OPS to establish himself outside the shadow of another goliath - JJ. Despite the fact that he took JJ's name before key actions, the actions and their modus operandi remained his own.

These are the facts, and these are known to everyone. We are interested in knowing the future trajectories of these events. Here are some possibilities.

The Good: OPS rallies people's support

It is no secret that people in rural / semi-urban TN deified JJ. So, they were OK with OPS worshipping the land that she walked on. However, it seems that OPS reserved his unstinted loyalty for JJ and JJ alone [as to what JJ did to earn that loyalty from him, is unknown]. Given that he was the choice of JJ twice, while she was still alive, OPS has considerable amount of goodwill amidst the TN populace. This goodwill has been augmented by a good amount by reinstating Jallikkattu. People of TN see in him, someone who was a loyal minister of their goddess, as well as someone who fights for the people. He can use this good will as a force multiplier in the coming days, and prove himself to be the Mark Anthony for JJ's Julius Caeser.

TN MLAs, while greedy (why else would they side with SN who holds the purse strings) are also politically astute. They know that being in power is more important than loyalty to any one person or ideology. Hence, if OPS manages to rally enough people - then many of these who are on the fence today will jump on his bandwagon. At this point, one should remember that about 45 MLAs have already promised their support to him (what their promise is worth, is a different question altogether).

So how would OPS rally public support? As things stand, it is fairly easy for him. By refusing to submit to SN's reign, OPS has already earned people's respect.  I can imagine OPS doing a padayatra (பாத யாத்திரை) in the rural / semi-urban centres of TN - where from he can prove that people are with him.

The Bad: Stalemate and the Split of AIADMK
While the first scenario is quite possible, if OPS chooses to go "all in", it is also possible that the ground reality of support is overly hyped (we don't think so). In which case, we expect OPS to garner enough political support, to split AIADMK. There is a possibility that OPS may run a minority government with tacit understanding of DMK (more on it later), or that SN may run a ruinous 4 year term - paving the way for DMK in 2021. Ruinous, because DMK will have a field day obstructing any kind of law making by the assembly - and SN will probably surround her with a coterie of "yes men". Neither is a recipe for a well run state.

The Ugly: OPS gets deserted
This is unlikely, but not impossible. It is quite possible that MLAs greed trumps their sagacity. In which case, OPS will become the political untouchable - while DMK pays lip service to OPS today, they won't touch him with a barge pole if he can't muster support. While we have not seen SN rule a state (or a city or a village), we can be fairly certain that it would be back to the dark ages of 1990's. In this case, OPS will have three trajectories - 1) play up the victim and Amma Loyalist card and start a new party - and he can become kingmaker in 2021; 2) Join TN BJP or 3) go into political oblivion. The second trajectory could prove tricky for OPS (Dravidian politics of TN) and would mean a tight rope walking to avoid (3) anyway.

Other Factors: There are several other factors that we have to take into account. What is the Union govt's stand? They are definitely friendly with OPS - but will they create enough deterrence to SN; to help their friend? What is DMK thinking? Their responses have been surprisingly civil - though one can construe it as the tears of a vulture for its prey. If AIADMK splits, DMK stands to gain the most. Similarly, if a people's leader like OPS gets deserted - DMK gains. If SN misrules TN for 4 yrs, DMK gains. So, in any scenario except "The Good", the only beneficiaries are DMK.

More importantly, what about the people themselves? Do they have enough fire left after the Jallikkattu to fight for OPS? It must be emphasized here that SN is uniformly detested across the state. But that may not mean that people have the energy to come and fight for OPS. Hence the "pada yatra" outlined may be essential.

Irrespective of what transpires, some heartening outcomes exist. There are still people in politics who can stand up for their belief and fight. There is a sliver of decency and inter-party courtesy that is coming out in TN after decades of bitter uncouth rivalry. DMK's official response, despite what must be internal glee, has been a sign of a mature state. Last, but not least, people all over TN have in totality rejected SN. This is evidenced by the complete lack of crowds during her coronation, as well as during OPS palace coup on the midnight of 7th Feb. This shows maturity of the electorate - especially an electorate that was ridiculed for selling votes in return for freebies. TN people may like their freebies, but they have shown they know wheat from chaff.

So far, so good. And we continue to live in interesting times.


Disclaimer: This author always held that OPS is a very underrated politician and an underappreciated administrator. The absolute lenience before the ordinance, and the firm (some would say disproportionate) action after the law was passed, reaffirms this view. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say, OPS is a strong willed administrators in the mould of Ms. JJ herself in her heydays.


  1. Very well written article which covers all possibilities. Does sir see any similarities with Gandharis curse which caused Yadavs to self destruct


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