Following the so-called election of Sasikala as the ruling AIADMK General Secretary giving her virtual control over the party, the state’s political conundrum has become murkier. One of India’s greatest self-professed political fixers – provided some surprising answers.
Sporting a half-sleeved long silk Kurta and pyjamas – attire that look better on Prime Minister Narendra Modi – the political manipulator par excellence known as MG was spotted at the Chennai Press Club. A spitting image of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s flunkey, Makhan Lal Fotedar the political lobbyist calls himself MG. “It stands for Maha Guru and also sits comfortably as Minimum Guarantee”, he informs those who are foolish enough to listen to him. Often, he cites own aphorisms and terms them as the Holy Minds’ Voices, earning him the sobriquet – HMV. His predictions are of the Nostradamus variety … puzzling … yet can be cited as indicative of any eventuality. So, he is referred to as the now outdated Long Playing Old Record [LPOR], cassette tape [CT] video-cassette-disc [VCD], political predicament predictor [PPP], fixer-of the deadly instigation [FDI] and first-class rascally abomination [FCRA].
“We meet after a long time, boyo,” PPP said, sipping a liquid from a whiskey glass that seemed thicker than usual. The drink had a slight yellow tinge. Bedecked with a lot of powdered ice it had a sort of tiara comprising a piece of lemon-peel and brandied cherries.
The backyard of the joint [it has no bar licence and hence consumption of hard liquor in that place is technically illegal] abuts a smaller hall whose frontage has a cement-concrete quadrangle overlooking a webbed shuttlecock court. Chennai’s mild winter evening was yet to really set in. Hence, bites of mosquitoes emanating from the gutter called Buckingham Canal located virtually next door were yet to begin their torture. Despite all this, it is a prestigious address. It stands cheek by jowl alongside the State Guest House and legislators’ quarters within a government estate named after a late CM – Omandur Ramaswamy Reddiyar.
“Someone close to Natarajan, husband of Tamil Nadu’s most powerful political stepmother – Sasikala – wanted to pick my brains. I will be advising him as to how Natarajan should guide his wife to stay afloat in the political swamp of TN,” FDI quipped as his opening gambit.
Chennai’s walls are full of posters hailing the recently dead Chief Minister Jayalalithaa with a suggestive image of Sasikala as her heir. The latter, called Chinnammaa [or maternal aunt – whose other meaning is step mother], has a bigger mug visible on the posters. Undoubtedly, the ex-female paramedic and former seller of video cassettes has the support of almost all the 137 legislators of the party. All of them have now “elected” her as the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s [AIADMK] General Secretary “unanimously”. The next step will be her being made the CM. The inevitable contest from the Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency where by-elections will have to be held following the death of Jayalalithaa will be the extension of the current political development. Rather strangely, Chief Minister O Panneerselvam [OPS] said that the resolution moved in a marriage hall located some 18 km northwest of the Poes Garden residence of the late Jaya where Sasikala is presumed to be a squatter – was accepted by Sasikala, “unanimously”.
But, the face of Sasikala is uniformly defaced or torn in almost all the wall -posters leading one to think that the party faithful hate Sasikala. This means, while the legislators could be on the side of Sasikala, AIADMK cadres and the people at large in TN are opposed to this move.
“Are you going to suggest that Natarajan should get his wife to be the party’s CM after her election as the outfit’s GS?”
I asked the obvious question.
“During Jayalalithaa’s funeral, Sasikala stood by the side of the body, rode the cortege and performed a lead role in burying her long-time boss. Prime Minister Modi was seen blessing her. Such was the power generated by Sasikala’s presence that all the ministers including the current CM [now nicknamed Oops] looked like props from a flop movie. Virtually, everyone who is somebody in the AIADMK is begging her to take up the important assignments and thus save Tamil Nadu. As Jaya was dead, it was a real funeral. The other one will be a political funeral implying the death of the AIADMK,” VCD observed.
“The husband of another person also named Sasikala was beaten black and blue, in the AIADMK office premises simply because the man wanted to file a nomination to the post – he could have never won. Are these straws in an evil wind?” I asked in a crestfallen tone.
“Isn’t the whole thing obvious to you?”
The Maha Guru infuriatingly beat around the bush.
“Consider me a little slow and tell me the verdict,” I snapped.
“Look at the scenario, before hearing the verdict. Virtually everyone eats out of Sasikala’s hand and grovels before her. Till the other day, a huge contingent of cops – numbering around 250 – guarded the Poes Garden residence – of the earlier CM Jaya – where Sasikala seems to be ensconced for good. Doesn’t that convey the clear message?”
The LPOR came up with another query that led to nowhere.
“Well, the DMK crown prince MK Stalin pointed out the gaffe – of the cops and the police force has been replaced by a private army. It seems she has beaten a hasty retreat at least on that front,” I said.
“Just suppose she was conveying a message to all and sundry that she was ‘democratically minded’ and that she ordered the withdrawal of the cops in uniform the moment an objection surfaced. Without saying in so many words, tacitly, Sasikala has indicated that she is in possession of a will or some document that renders her stay in the residence of the late CM “officially sanctioned.” Now that she has been elected the party’s all powerful GS, isn’t the indication obvious to you?” The FCRA asked a pointed query.
I was confused.
“So, will she be the queen of Tamil Nadu in Jaya’s place and be the CM?”
I rephrased my earlier question with trepidation.
“Why should she take the plunge? She seems to be controlling the state as an unconstitutional power and seems to be more powerful than OPS who cannot win his seat again from any constituency in TN! For that matter, Sasikala too has zero charisma and can’t win from any constituency on her own, unless the elections are rigged. Can’t you see that she is playing the same game as Sonia Gandhi did during the 2 United Progressive Alliance [UPA] regimes? [See: https://haritsv.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/sonia-gandhi-indias-lady-macbeth/] Natarajan is a street smart man! Sasikala stands to gain the people’s sympathy and don the mantle of a sacrificing person by refusing an official position – and yet be the real power-wielder from behind the throne. It is the best of both the worlds. If Sasikala does decide to take the plunge, sooner or later the regime will would fall as the decisions of Jaya’s former aide will be seen as the AIDS affecting the AIADMK by many. This could lead to some legislators during a no-confidence motion – if it is ever moved on the issue of the mysteries surrounding Jaya’s death. That would bring the edifice down because a Division Bench of the Madras High Court has demanded some serious answers surrounding the earlier CM’s “sudden death”. If Sasikala is forced to cede to such a request, more skeletons will tumble out. If she doesn’t, the court could order exhumation of the body. Suppose something serious is found missing in it? It would be a terrible scandal! Those who have pinned their hopes on making more money through Sasikala and/or her flunkey Oops being at the helm of affairs will lose faith, which could also spell doom for the AIADMK government. It is a lose-lose proposition all the way with little leeway to yell oops,” the ‘minimum guarantee’ spat the words out.
“You mean to say she will refuse the trappings of power, pretend to have made sacrifices and yet hold the trappings of power in the inside of her palms by continuing with OPS?” I asked the question in a voice that dripped with incredulity.
“You journalists can’t see beyond your silly noses. If earlier reports are to be believed, Karunanidhi – actually controls her. Other reports said that the DMK has a list of 42 legislators who were and probably are willing to cross the floor in case a no-confidence motion is set in motion. The DMK has enough numbers on its own – nearly 90 – and more than 37 – the magic figure of a third of the AIADMK floor strength to register a split. When Karunanidhi has the strength to be CM himself, why would he allow his moll to be CM?”
“Are you saying that the DMK will topple the government to stop Sasikala?”
I asked in sheer disbelief.
“Why should Karunanidhi do that, for God’s sake? He controls Sasikala, in turn Sasikala controls OPS, and OPS would want to enjoy the trappings of power just as Dr Manmohan Singh did during UPA I & II. It is a comfortable arrangement that suits all the three. That is just the beginning. The situation would suit the Bharatiya Janata Party at the centre as it could get things done in TN without having anyone in the state or cadre strength worth the name. Since Karunanidhi could be exercising control, the set-up would suit the Congress too. Karunanidhi can keep everyone in the party guessing about the anointment of Stalin as his heir and/or future working President and thus retain control of the party on the one hand and avoid antagonising his other children – like Alagiri and Kanimozhi. In the background, Sasikala’s husband Natarajan too would enjoy power without any authority whatsoever! It reeks of comfort to everyone. But, Sasikala cannot remain in that position of what Sonia did in Delhi for too long. Sonia is the widow of former PM Rajiv Gandhi and Sasikala is married to someone whose arrest had been ordered by Jayalalithaa’s cops. Simply put, if a tossed coin lands on heads, Sasikala loses big. If it shows tails, she loses bigger. If it stands on its rim, the suspense in the state will trigger a chaos and cause a mid-term poll and Sasikala will lose the biggest. But, in such a scenario, neither the AIADMK not the DMK can hope to cobble majorities on their own as Karunanidhi cannot do much electioneering. The present status quo ante only suits the speechless wonder OPS for whom dumbness is the comfortable, snug, smug motto,” the FCRA guffawed.
This averment had a wee bit of logic. However, I was not ready to give up.
“The BJP shot itself in the mouth by getting the income tax department to raid former Chief Secretary Ram Mohan Rao. The entire opposition in TN seems to be supporting the man alleged of huge corruption. Rao himself told the press that he fears for his life at the hands of agent provocateurs from the centre. Besides, other opposition parties allege a constitutional crisis seconding the quotes of Rao,” I said in an injured tone to register my protest.
“Look at the scenario. To throw a scare into OPS, Sasikala could have passed on the details of Rao’s secret treasurer – Sekar Reddy – to the IT authorities. The raid unearthed links with Rao and in turn exposed one Parasmal Lodha in Calcutta. After the raid on Reddy, OPS fell in line and beseeched Sasikala to don the important mantles. But, since then, Rao said that the raid could not have happened had Jaya been alive. That is a direct threat issued to Sasikala and OPS! But, there is one minor unanswered question. What about the dozens of crores of rupees seized from the residence of Rao and those of his near and dear? He has not denied the seizure or has alleged that the money was planted. Simply put, he has compounded his blunder. Suppose Sasikala and/or OPS decide to make Rao the fall guy, and he exposes more names, the defecation will hit the fan and the stink will be nauseating,” the Guru laughed at his own joke.
“This is fantastic. But, such a scenario would suit none – not the ruling AIADMK, not the opposition DMK and certainly not the BJP whose presence in TN is close to zilch,” I said rather weakly.
“That is what everyone would want. Sasikala and Natarajan would want to keep the Damocles Sword hanging over every head to squeeze as much as they can. Whenever the regime is toppled, Sasikala and Natarajan who have no children of their own – can go abroad for some treatment of some feigned illness and never return – thus retaining all the riches – acquired during Jaya’s hospitalisation as suspected, by hook or by crook. Sasikala too knows that she cannot win any election anywhere in TN. So would be the case with OPS and others. During the mid-term polls the DMK would be placed somewhat better and win more seats. As she is Karunanidhi’s moll, one would expect her to ingratiate herself with her former boss. But, Karunanidhi may want to be the interim CM during the suspenseful interregnum by pulling down Sasikala’s regime if she becomes CM. That would give the DMK an edge. Better still, Karunanidhi may advise the governor to dissolve the assembly and seek a fresh mandate. But, no party would win a majority … and it would have to be a coalition regime. In such a scenario, the BJP will dictate terms. To avoid embarrassment, Karunanidhi will go slow on the corruption charges to keep his own flock intact – some of whom may be those who desert Sasikala! The likes of Rao could then prove to be flies in many ointments. BJP may think of other raids in case political enemies in TN decide to cancel each other out in a game of mutually assured destruction. In the end, the Augean Stables of TN will continue to remain eternally dirty. This much can be discerned from the comfy fates of Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi and for that matter the joker called Zakir Naik – all of whom are having a ball abroad! For all that threats against Robert Vadra by the BJP, has any realistic action been taken against Sonia’s son-in-law? The television channels were full of stories about the villainy of former Air Force boss – who was arrested and then released make the Central Bureau of Investigation look like a bunch of ninnies in the Agusta Westland affair. Promises of action will kept eternally as promises – and never fulfilled. Whenever someone raises a question, very conveniently, just as the BJP blames UPA for everything – perhaps with some justification – the realigned parties in TN could term the whole thing as a sly game of the “communal BJP” to destroy the so-called Dravidian culture! In the end, everyone would lose!”
The Guru smiled mischievously.
“All this is speculation. You keep forgetting something. There is this wonderful man called Subramanian Swamy who hopes to be CM of TN, if not the PM of India. He would stop at nothing!”
I thought I had scored the bull’s eye.
It resulted in CT’s derision.
“Little pen-pusher Pinocchio, you are wet behind your ears. Sasikala was introduced to Jaya by former IAS officer Chandralekha, one of the mainstays in the party founded by Swamy and his alter ego in TN! The go between was Natarajan! You should read other material to understand the maze called TN! Besides, Dr Swamy is a close friend of Dr Pratap Reddy of Apollo hospital where Jaya spent her last 75 days. Reddy’s daughter has links snaking into the biz empire of Karunanidhi’s grandnephews – the Maran siblings – facing prosecution in the Aircel-Maxis case and also the illegal telephone exchange. Apollo offices were raided by the CBI in the past when UPA was in power! Swamy took Jaya to court in the disproportionate assets case in 1996, which was later ‘adopted’ by the DMK. Jaya is dead, but Sasikala is yet to be exonerated in that. The DMK has its own cup of woe held by Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi in the matter concerning 2G Spectrum auctions. The Congress led UPA took action that send A Raja, the minister and Kanimozhi to prison. But the same Congress voted to send Kanimozhi to the Rajya Sabha! In politics, everyone has fingers in every dirty pie. You media hacks will never understand these these concentric rings and their ringleaders,” the fixer said and took a long gulp from his drink.
It was time to change the subject, as the whole thing had become too controversial.
“Before I forget, tell me about your exotic cocktail – that looks rather strange,” I said.
“This has a strange significance to the situation in TN. The drink is called Perfect Amaretto Sour. Its ingredients are: 1.50 ounces of the almond flavoured Italian liqueur that comes from Saronno, Italy. It has a dash of nice bourbon produced in Bardstown, Kentucky, USA called Noah’s Mill. TN politics like the Ark who was created and floated by the Biblical character Noah, has every type of political creature of the modern era in its leaky boat. The drink also contains .50 ounce of beaten egg white and an ounce of lemon juice that lends the light yellow hue. Before you ask the next question, I will give you two details that will trigger a hue and cry. Amaretto, in Italian means “a little bitter”. And Saronno is a town located a bit northwest of the Italian town of Vicenza – the original home of Congress boss Sonia Gandhi!”
Before I could yell ‘Egad’, the Guru’s phone glowed and showed an SMS.. It was obviously important. He left the Press Club and the glass behind without a word for his meeting.
I gingerly took a drop of the cocktail to discern its taste. It was indeed very sour.