Amid the rumoured rumblings among many AIADMK leaders against the presence of Sasikala’s family members at the funeral of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, multiple sources indicated that Sasikala was taking calculated steps by keeping her relatives, including husband N Natarajan, away from the crucial decisions.
According to party sources, Sasikala is unlikely to accommodate Natarajan or her brother V Divakaran in the party or any crucial posts. If at all she favours someone from the family, it would be her nephew T T V Dinakaran, former AIADMK treasurer and an MP popular among party cadres.
“She doesn’t want to antagonise anyone in the party and she knows that promoting her relatives alone would trigger distress among Jayalalithaa loyalists. Moreover, she has the lessons of both Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Chennai city corporation mayor Saidai Duraisamy, who were given deserving posts by Jayalalithaa after 1990 even if they were staunch loyalists of MGR’s wife Janaki,” said a senior leader.
The sources added that Sasikala was unlikely to try for the CM’s post. If she gets a loyalist from a non-Thevar community, she would even consider that person as general secretary. Both Sasikala and Panneerselvam hail from the Thevar community.
“There is no question of removing Panneerselvam from the CM’s post. If the community factor becomes a real concern in decision-making, Sasikala will pick a loyalist or Panneerselvam himself for the general secretary’s post. And if she still wants to hold a political post, she would consider posts like treasurer or organising secretary,” said a senior leader who has never fallen out of favour with Jayalalithaa or Sasikala since 2000.
Unlike senior leaders, an AIADMK MP said Panneerselvam continues to be a safe candidate for Sasikala as he remains a party loyalist.
“Panneerselvam’s support base is limited to his own district. More than anyone, he knows that he has to cope with Sasikala. Any mutiny plans from his side will only help Sasikala get BJP support besides other eminent threats against him such as probes by central agencies on his alleged wealth. Sasikala also trusts Panneerselvam,” said the leader.
If not Sasikala or Panneerselvam, loyalists such as AIADMK presidium chairman E Madhusudhanan — a veteran leader with a clean image and who is known for his loyalty to Jayalalithaa and Sasikala — are also being considered for general secretary’s post.
Sources ruled out a power struggle between dominant caste groups as long as Sasikala is careful in her decisions and does not favour her relatives.
Sasikala has also reportedly ruled out a possible threat from M Thambidurai, the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker who has a sizeable clout in Delhi, especially among BJP leaders. Thambidurai’s name had emerged in talks immediately after Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation. He belongs to the western Kongu belt and represents the powerful OBC-Gounder community.
Sources said Panneerselvam would neither be a puppet nor a rebel under Sasikala, but senior opposition leaders did not underestimate her political experience. “It will be foolish to underestimate her political skills… She has been cunning and shrewd in talks… She is sharp and demanding in deals, doesn’t compromise and never shies away from reasonable solutions,” said a senior Left leader, recalling his seat-sharing talks with Sasikala when they were part of the alliance.
P Ramajayam, a senior political analyst, said multiple power centres in the absence of Jayalalithaa would be the major challenge for Sasikala. “Her future and the party’s fate are all based on how she addresses caste equations in a party which already enjoys immense support within the Thevar community. Over 20 senior DMK MLAs well versed in administration and politics, among the powerful opposition, will be the major threat Panneerselvam will face,” he said.