Tactical retreat: On Shashikala’s move to step aside from politics

As elections approach, drama and excitement will be a constant feature in the conduct of politics. In December last, it was veteran actor Rajinikanth who provided the theatrics to the political situation in Tamil Nadu by announcing his entry, and then his exit. Now, with the Assembly election hardly a month away, V.K. Shashikala, former interim general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and aide of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, surprised many by declaring that she would step aside from politics.

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After mobilizing her supporters and making a political show of her return to the State on serving out her jail term in Bengaluru, she issued an appeal to the “true followers” of Jayalalithaa to “remain united, act wisely and work hard” during the Assembly election to prevent the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) from capturing power again.

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There is no clarity over what prompted her to make such an announcement when it was expected that she would play an active political role, going by her observations in the last one month. But regardless of her motives, the latest statement can be viewed as a tactical retreat on her part so that the ruling AIADMK does not suffer any disadvantage in the elections.

Although her nephew, T.T.V.   Dhinakaran, who heads the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), is still hoping to lead a coalition of his own, her statement is a shot in the arm for the AIADMK, which is trying to ward off the challenge from the principal opposition, the DMK. It has also laid to rest, for the time being, the debate over the possibility of her return to the AIADMK, which was reported to have turned down a suggestion from its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, on the matter.

What the ruling party expects now is that the AMMK’s support base in the central and southern parts of the State will come back to it and help the party win the Assembly elections. There is expectation that the gap between the AIADMK-led front and the DMK-led coalition will narrow down, especially if some of the loyalists in the Shashikala camp are accommodated during distribution of the tickets by the AIADMK. But, elections rarely turn on any one factor, and certainly not on the limited support base of the breakaway group of Ms. Shashikala.

On test will be the performance of Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami in the last four years. Personality-based politics has taken a back seat this election with the passing of M. Karunanidhi of the DMK and Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK. Performance and promises are, therefore, more likely to dominate the campaign.

published in The Hindu on 06/03/2021. In this article “On Shashikala’s move to step aside from politics”.