A year since Jayalalithaa’s demise: How the AIADMK crumbled without their tallest leader

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It has been a year since her demise but everything about Jayalalithaa, including her memorial, is relevant to Tamil Nadu and its politics. So much so that the latest entrant into the poll fray, actor Vishal too, visited "Amma's samadhi" before filing his nominations to contest the R K Nagar bypoll.

A year since Jayalalithaa's demise, the fall of the AIADMK

Tamil Nadu politics has been a roller coaster ride since Jayalalithaa's hospitalisation and demise in 2016. A year since then "amma government" in Tamil Nadu is nothing like Jayalalithaa's regime, say analysts. Split into camps and left to fight bitter battles for her legacy, Jayalalithaa's AIADMK is a reminder of what happens when there is no second line of leaders.

The vacuum is obvious in the government as well as the party, says political analyst Sumanth Raman who also highlighted how it is almost a trend in Tamil Nadu politics for leaders not to leave a successor. "Very powerful leaders hardly anoint a successor when they are alive. It is just the same trend and there is nothing new in her (Jayalalithaa's) case. That is how it has been in Tamil Nadu politics," he said.

How the AIADMK crumbled after Jayalalithaa

On December 5, 2016, Apollo hospitals where Jayalalithaa was being treated since September that year, declared that a cardiac arrest had led to the demise of Tamil Nadu's six-time Chief Minister. The drama is AIADMK, however, began much earlier. Her Man Friday, O Panneerselvam was handed over her official duties back in October even as she continued to remain Cheif Minister. When the news of her demise was made public, he became the natural choice to take over as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

The elevation of Sasikala Natarajan as the party's interim General secretary, the revolt by O Panneerselvam, Deepa Jayaram para dropping herself into the scene along with brother Deepak, split in the party and cadres, the reemergence of TTV Dinakaran along party lines, resort politics, memorial melodrama, convicticon and imprisonment of Sasikala Natarajan in a disproportionate assets case, promises of revenge, conversations with "Amma's aatma", ugly fight for "justice" and the party's Two leaves symbol, ostracisation of the Mannargudi clan making way for Panneerselvam and Edappadi Palanisamy to unite, floor test, change of Governors, allegations of centre fidling with state government, bitter standoffs are what unfolded after Jayalalithaa's demise.

Today, despite the Panneerselvam and Edappadi camp deeming themselves the real AIADMK, rebel leaders under TTV Dinakaran continue to breathe fire. "This is not the government of Amma. This government is everything against what Amma stood for. We fail to understand what Edappadi and Panneerselvam's problem with Chinnamma (Sasikala) is. In fact, TTV Dinakaran introduced Panneerselvam to Amma (Jayalalithaa). More than 95 per cent of the party leaders came to be because of Sasikala because she called the shots," said C R Saraswati, a TTV Dinakaran supporter.

She highlighted how the AIADMK has always been a 'single leader party' and today even this basic structure has changed. "Even during the time of MGR or Amma, we had just one leader. The concept of two leaders does not exist in the AIADMK," she added.

Without Jayalalithaa, AIADMK is a ghost of what it was

For years, leaders of the AIADMK remained powerless, unimportant, prostrating figures before Jayalalithaa. Votes were sought in her name, elections were won in her name and today, even after her death, the government is running in her name. What has changed, however, is the party as well as the government and its functions from a strong, independent, secure entity to a somewhat weak reminder of what it used to be.

"There is a huge vacuum both in the party and the government. Whoever is around is trying to fill it to their ability but she is definitely being missed. A split in the party, multiple factions have weakened the AIADMK while the current government's inability to take tough stands on issues concerned dear to Tamil Nadu unlike Jayalalithaa vis-a-vis the centre says a lot," Sumanth Raman added.

From being dependent on Jayalalithaa for every public address, leaders of the AIADMK now find themselves under the compulsion to talk to the media, people directly. Many leaders, including Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy, were not public figures before Jayalalithaa's demise. "They are currently in a 'to each himself' condition now. Earlier, they lived under the impression that Jayalalithaa would take care of everything and rightly so because the buck stopped there. They didn't feel the need to explain anything. They were completely dependent on her but now they have to defend themselves when allegations are made," he said. He also added how there was no fear factor anymore about anyone in authority.

A year on, the fight is still on for Jayalalithaa's legacy. Her name is still being used to gain sympathy, support from the people but neither the party nor the government is an ounce of what it was under her regime. Politicians, analysts and even the people of Tamil Nadu believe that it is only a matter of time before the weak 'unified version' of the AIADMK crumbles yet again. Without Jayalalithaa, the R K Nagar bypoll is all set to be the gamechanger for AIADMK.

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