NEW DELHI: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s AIADMK winning the trust vote in the assembly on Saturday brought the curtain down on the turbulent Act I of the post-Jayalalithaa play which is yet to run its full course.

The shocking violence that turned the Assembly into a fight club on February 18 upended the prepared scripts of all the key players. In the ensuing drama, there were only villains; none in a redeeming role that would do representative democracy proud.

The last scene of Act I began on February 16 with Governor Vidyasagar Rao giving Palaniswami (EPS) 15 days to prove his majority on the floor of the House. It was a long rope, given in the hope that EPS would hang himself politically with displaced Interim Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) seizing the chance to kick away the stool from under him.

Far from doing the expected, EPS surprised one and all by promptly announcing that the trust vote would be held two days later. This move caught unawares his opponents, like DMK chief M K Stalin, who criticised the 15-day period as a window for horse trading. For his part, OPS was being shepherded by RSS elements in the AIADMK along with the BJP, which had covertly backed him from the day he discovered that he had been coerced into supporting the now-jailed V K Sasikala.

In the event, OPS turned out to be the proverbial mud-horse that dissolved midstream, and those riding on him -- such as the DMK MLAs led by Stalin – had to stoop to the level of a physical battle to fend of certain political defeat.

EPS has emerged as a clear winner and Stalin as the biggest loser. When Stalin realised that he stood no chance of breaking the EPS-led AIADMK and preventing his government from winning the trust vote, he lost his cool; and, also the pre-scripted plot.

Soon enough, he lost his shirt, literally and metaphorically, in the fracas his partymen created in the House. In the process, he has also lost much face. And. his image – as, perhaps, the best among the current crop of Dravida leaders who deserves a chance to lead Tamil Nadu – has taken a severe beating.

The DMK has once again come to be seen as a party of unruly men, prone to violence and disorderly behavior who are contemptuous of parliamentary processes. Regardless of the DMK’s numbers in the House, it would take Stalin and the DMK a long time – or, an extraordinary turn of events – to live down the self-inflicted damage that could well be their political undoing.

OPS had little to lose, no matter which way the vote went. At the least, the stand-in CM, known for bending low like a vassal, scraping the floor and prostrating to Amma, is now accepted as a ‘political entity’ in his own right. He has on his side a handful of MLAs and under a dozen MPs, which stock may command value in the eyes of Modi Sarkar especially when the time comes for electing the President and Vice President. And, numbers are always useful especially in Parliament.

The Congress, though an inconsequential extra in Tamil politics, had, like the DMK, hoped to sow confusion, split the AIADMK MLAs behind EPS for fomenting instability and sustain itself on the uncertainty.

At the close of play on February 18, the BJP emerged unscathed although it was the most influential force behind the scenes and upfront as well. The upfront one-man team was the redoubtable BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who was unwavering in his support of Sasikala.

He would now be immeasurably useful to Modi Sarkar, which wants to “stabilise” the situation in Tamil Nadu for the advantages its numbers would provide in Parliament as well as during the presidential election in July. And, EPS, like OPS, before him would be more than willing to go along with whatever Modi Sarkar wants, for it can only help – and, not harm in any way – Sasikala’s prospects of shortening her stay in jail.

After all, BJP Ministers did call on Jayalalithaa even after she was first convicted and cases, including of income tax violations against her, were dropped.

Swamy can also derive satisfaction from the fact that Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu – who kept drawing attention to his importance as the Centre’s man beind OPS by repeatedly saying that the BJP is not in the picture – bet on horses that didn’t win the race. Clearly, Swamy has marked Tamil Nadu as his territory, and EPS may have good use for the services of Swamy and Friends who may be willing to return the favour.

This is the state of play in Tamil Nadu where the audience awaits further twists and turns in the plot. The cast is recovering from the dishum-dishum of the battle won and lost yesterday. The directors are casting about for that formula, with the necessary masala or “juice”, to re-work the script to the requirements of the puppeteers.

True, EPS is Sasikala’s proxy. Nothing stops him from becoming a proxy for higher powers, too, especially if it can alter Sasikala’s status and also enhance his value to other centres of command and control.

(Cover Photograph:Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami elected Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu)

(Shastri Ramachandaran is a senior journalist and columnist who has worked in major Indian and foreign newspapers)