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Telescope: Heir unapparent

Battle for Jayalalithaa’s legacy is made for TV.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai |
February 9, 2017 12:04:25 am
House of Cards, jayalalithaa, jayalalithaa death, sasikala, tamil nadu CM, panneerselvam, ektaa kapoor, #CM Sasikala, indian express opinion, india news, aiadmk, sasikala panneerselvam Tamil Nadu caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam at the memorial of the late J Jayalalithaa in Chennai Tuesday night. PTI photo

It is a superb political drama worthy of the House of Cards. A melodrama deserving the talents of Ektaa Kapoor, she of the popular “K” soaps and reptilian sagas with plots as convoluted as a coiled snake. Just like this one. It has a cast of high-profile dramatis personae: A revered, recently deceased leader with a question mark over her death, her faithful and longstanding companion emerging from her shadow, her loyal chief minister, suddenly a rebel with a cause, a disgruntled niece, an absentee governor; political opponents who wait and watch, and a Supreme Court ruling that could upset calculations.

WATCH | All Out War In AIADMK, Sasikala Natarajan Hits Back At O Panneerselvam

Who could resist such a potboiler?

Not TV news. Why, the English channels have been unable to concentrate on anything else ever since Sunday afternoon’s announcement that V.K. Sasikala would be the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Initially nonplussed, they were then “shocked” like the DMK by “#Chinamma’s” lightning strike for power before a “political war over #CM Sasikala” (Times Now) broke out on Monday. First, there was speculation on what would happen next; next, what happened was an extraordinary and boisterous press conference by J. Jayalalithaa’s doctors to explain the causes of her death. Lastly, the prime-time debates: “What is her (Sasikala’s) political credibility to be CM?” asked CNN News 18 on Monday night.

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At 10.35 pm, an earthquake jolted the mountains of Uttarakhand. Its aftershocks reached Chennai on Tuesday morning when P.H. Pandian, a former AIADMK leader, took to the airwaves and TV news searched for the right words to describe his “stunning, shocking claim” (India Today) that Jayalalithaa’s death was “unnatural”. “Damning charges” (Times Now) and “explosive revelations” (CNN News 18) that the former CM had been “pushed” before her hospitalisation resulted in “Jaya death row” (India Today).

With such skullduggery on offer, it’s a wonder channels could tear themselves away from Chennai to broadcast “#ModiQuake” in Parliament (Times Now) as the PM replied to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address. For once, Modi had to yield pride of place. No sooner had he finished speaking than Jayalalithaa’s niece seized centrestage with interviews to TV news critical of Sasikala, only to yield it to the man of the moment, the elusive governor of Tamil Nadu, C. Vidyasagar Rao.

WATCH VIDEO | O. Panneerselvam: 10 Things You Need To Know

At night, we were being lulled to sleep by the endless speculations on his travel plans and options, when we were eerily awakened by the “dramatic” (CNN News) appearance of O. Panneerselvam at Jayalalithaa’s memorial in the dead of night — and his allegations of perfidy against Sasikala and his cabinet colleagues with regard to his resignation as CM.

In the words of T.S. Sudhir, he set the “cat amongst the pigeons” (India Today). As TV news scurried after him and raced across to Poes Garden it seemed to Sreenivasan Jain that the AIADMK was “headed for a split” (NDTV 24×7) while Times Now and India Today examined Congress allegations of a BJP hand in the turn of events and the DMK.

Riveting stuff but close to midnight, you had to agree with C. Rajasekharan (AIADMK) when he said, “I am confused” (India Today). As we watched a stream of grey/white cars disappear into the black night, CNN News preened itself for being “the first to report that OPS will revolt” — you’d think they had engineered it themselves, so pleased was Zakka Jacob. But no, Rahul Kanwal of India Today claimed otherwise: We have “the best reporting team” and Times Now has the “biggest” team — eight at last count. No amount of sensational, dramatic, stunning developments can keep channels from gamesmanship.

WATCH VIDEO | 5 Lesser Known Facts About Sasikala Natarajan

Wednesday morning and the intrigue continued between OPS and Sasikala with move and counter-move. If Panneerselvan won the optics battle the night before with his vigil at Jayalalithaa’s memorial, it was now Sasikala’s turn: Attired in a crimson saree, she took to the balcony with the “V for Victory” sign. And then, for the first time, we heard her speak more than two sentences as she called out the “traitors, betrayers and enemies of the AIADMK”. Ouch.

As the battle continues between the two, TV news anchors and reporters must be rubbing their hands in glee: in this instance, they did not have to manufacture a conflict — this is a genuine Game of Thrones readymade for TV.

 

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