The arrest of former Tamil Nadu agriculture minister SS Krishnamoorthy on the weekend for abetting the suicide of a government employee seems to have stolen the Opposition's thunder. At least for now.

For the past month, almost the entire Opposition had been demanding the arrest of "Agri" Krishnamoorthy  and M Senthil Kumar, a chief engineer in the agriculture department,  for driving a subordinate in their department to kill himself in February.  S Muthukumarasamy had thrown himself  in front of a speeding train in Tirunelveli, allegedly because he was unable to withstand the pressure exerted by the chief engineer and the ex-minister to appoint seven candidates of their choice as drivers in the department.  Muthukumarasamy is thought to have been hesitant in doing so because he believed that the candidates had paid bribes to get the jobs.

Though the Tamil Nadu Opposition was demanding that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, observers feel that the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Jayalalithaa have successfully been able to defuse the situation with these arrests.  It is unthinkable in Tamil Nadu politics for an MLA who had been a minister until last month to be arrested.

On the front foot

But the move is not surprising if one looks at Jayalalithaa's behaviour and attitude ever since she came back to power in May 2014 for a third time.  Occupying the citadel with a brute majority by winning over 150 seats on her own in the 234 member assembly, Jayalalithaa had from day one started tackling every crucial issue raised by the Opposition head-on.

From the protests against Koodankulam nuclear plant, river water issues, clemency for Rajiv Gandhi's killer and protesting against the participation of Sri Lankan cricket players in IPL matches, Jayalalithaa has been at the forefront, speaking the language of a hardcore Tamil.

“I am not surprised – in fact I had expected this," said MPT Gyanam, a senior journalist and political observer.   "Since she usurps every important issue in to her hands and is continuously adopting an attitude of playing to the gallery, there is no surprise in the present decision. But with my experience I can say that this arrest have enhanced the image of both the AIADMK government and Jayalalithaa."

Jayalalithaa's  AIADMK tried to talk up the gesture, claiming that these sort of arrests would have been unthinkable during the regime of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. “Muthukumarasamy committed suicide and no one is saying that it is a murder.  But we don’t want to be complacent,"  said party spokesperson Avadi Kumar.  "Since there is a perception among a section of media and since the Opposition is crying foul, we want to clear the air and hence the crime branch proceeded on the case freely and fairly."

The glaring irony of the situation is that no one is according any credit to current Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.  Everyone knows and believes that the power flows from No 36, Poes Garden, Chennai, the home of former chief minister and AIADMK General Secretary J Jayalalithaa.

At a time when Jayalalithaa is eagerly awaiting the verdict of the Karanataka High Court in the case about disproportionate assets, the arrest of the former minister is being seen as helping her image.  In September, Jayalalithaa, along with three others, including her close aide Sasikala, was sentenced to four years simple imprisonment and fined Rs 100 crore in a disproportionate assets corruption case by a Special Bangalore Court.  She was granted bail by the Supreme Court in October.  The arguments in her appeal were concluded before the Karnataka High Court on March 11 and the final verdict is expected at any time.  All of Tamil Nadu's political class is waiting for the judgement, which could have deep bearings on the state's future.