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9 February 2017 Editorial



The revenge of the underdog

Personal angst, public interest, and a sharp eye for a political opportunity have combined in different measures to prompt Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam to do what he himself may have regarded as unthinkable: revolt against the AIADMK leadership. A die-hard loyalist of Jayalalithaa, and by extension of his one-time benefactor Ms. Sasikala, Mr. Panneerselvam, who was perceived as the archetypal feudal supplicant, chose his moment to strike back at the patricians in the party. After years of bowing before Jayalalithaa, and doing as he was told unquestioningly, the three-time stand-in Chief Minister wanted, entirely legitimately, more leeway under Ms. Sasikala. Clearly, he realised after Jayalalithaa’s death, that he would have to put up with another round of slavish obeisance. But it was when he sensed the public mood turning against Ms. Sasikala that he found the courage and the strength to protest. In invoking Jayalalithaa’s name to justify his revolt, Mr. Panneerselvam is trying to project that it is he who is her chosen political heir. It is difficult to say how successful he will be in inheriting this mantle, but the political damage he has done to Ms. Sasikala is considerable. Not many AIADMK MLAs may have joined his revolt, but it has touched a chord with the rank and file, something she will have to contend with. On the defensive as she awaits a Supreme Court judgment in the disproportionate assets case, the long-standing friend of Jayalalithaa appears vulnerable both legally and politically. Clearly, the cloak of invincibility that Jayalalithaa seemed to have on her during even the most testing times was not Ms. Sasikala’s to wear.

What Mr. Panneerselvam demonstrated to the AIADMK cadre was that there was nothing to recommend Ms. Sasikala other than her proximity to Jayalalithaa; in this she was only marginally better placed than Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s niece, who is also making a bid to inherit the political legacy without ever having any kind of association with politics. Mr. Panneerselvam’s revolt, which took some time coming, did have a political repercussion, as a small clutch of party leaders disenchanted with Ms. Sasikala gravitated towards him. It gave Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, and the Centre, some breathing time. Mr. Rao, who is yet to come to Chennai after Mr. Panneerselvam’s resignation, is in no hurry to swear in Ms. Sasikala as Chief Minister. To do so now would be a huge mistake in the event of a conviction in the judgment, expected in a few days. No matter what else it does or does not, this revenge of the underdog is a success. It might not help Mr. Panneerselvam much in the short term, but could have long-term implications for Ms. Sasikala. That is the nature of revenge.


Growing insecurity in Afghanistan

Tuesday’s blast near the Supreme Court premises in Kabul that left at least 20 people dead, underscores the growing insecurity in Afghanistan. The suicide attack once again reveals the capability of terrorist outfits in Afghanistan to target even the most secure places in the national capital. In the past the Taliban have targeted the court and even the Parliament building. The government of Ashraf Ghani has condemned the attack and vowed a tough response. But beyond the rhetoric, Kabul’s anti-terror strategy has hardly been effective, considering the inroads insurgents have made in the recent years. After most foreign troops withdrew in 2014, the Taliban have steadily stepped up attacks, expanding the civil war into residential areas. According to a UN report, 2016 was the bloodiest year for Afghan civilians since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2001. The Taliban’s territorial control has grown in strength. Last year it had briefly overrun the northern city of Kunduz and threatened to attack several other population centres. A report by Sigar, a U.S. Congressional watchdog, says around 28% of Afghans now live in territories over which government troops and the Taliban have been fighting.

The Ghani government had initially sought an agreement with the Taliban and reached out to Pakistan, which has some influence over the group. But this yielded nothing. Kabul failed to cash in on an internal power struggle within the Taliban after the 2015 disclosure about the death of its leader, Mullah Omar. The Taliban survived the death of Omar’s successor, Mullah Mansoor, in a U.S. drone strike. The Taliban have over time built resources and a strong insurgent army to fight a long war with the elected government. The question is whether the government, facing factionalism and corruption allegations, is ready for it. For Kabul, the threat is multiplying. The Islamic State has established some presence in the country and declared a “province” of the ‘Caliphate’ in eastern Afghanistan — Wilayat Khorasan. To turn its fortunes around in the 15-year-old civil war, Afghanistan needs to strengthen the administration. Mr. Ghani should initiate the administrative reforms he had promised and put up a stronger, united fight against terrorist groups. Kabul should seek more help and a higher level of commitment from other countries, including the U.S., in combating terror. A weakening of the civilian government and its capacity to ensure security is not in the interest of any global power.












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