The AIADMK appeared ready for a smooth transition of authority to Sasikala, the late party supremo J Jayalalithaa’s longtime aide, with a delegation of senior party leaders visiting Poes Garden on Saturday and urging “Chinnamma”, as Sasikala is known in party circles, to take over the leadership of the party.
Throughout the day, party mouthpiece Jaya TV aired visuals of senior leaders, including party presidium chairman E Madhusudanan and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai, at Poes Garden. The channel, which aired live bytes of partymen urging Sasikala to be their leader, kept referring to Sasikala as “Chinnamma” or “V K Sasikala” and not Sasikala Natarajan as she is more commonly referred to. Some of the known Jayalalithaa loyalists, including K A Sengottaiyan and MPs A Navaneethakrishnan and V Maitreyan, were among those who praised Sasikala on Jaya TV. Natham Viswanathan and Senthil Balaji, former ministers who had fallen out of favour with Jayalalithaa, also spoke in support of Sasikala.
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“After Amma, it is only Chinnamma. Chinnamma follows Amma’s footsteps. We told her that we are with you. I urged her to come forward and accept the responsibility of party general secretary and guide us,” Thambidurai, whose name had been doing the rounds for the post of general secretary, told Jaya TV.
Over the last three days, Sasikala has been meeting ministers, senior party leaders and cadres. According to a minister and two other senior leaders, Sasikala’s meetings with them were largely an exercise to reactivate the party machinery. “She said she would stand by the party. On Thursday and Friday, she told senior leaders that they needn’t listen to people just because they were her relatives. She sounded like Jayalalithaa when she said that,” a senior leader told The Sunday Express.
“She was grief stricken when I met her on Thursday. She has lost someone with whom she lived for 30 years. It may be easy for everyone to ridicule her but it is a fact that Sasikala played a major role in the party and government — from running Jaya TV to handling alliance partners and taking decisions on promotions and transfers in the government and police. If she can resist the pressure from her family and lead us like Jayalalithaa, the party will escape a sudden death,” said the leader.
Multiple sources in the party said that while there is talk of Sasikala being the new general secretary, it’s also possible that the post would be left vacant as a tribute to Jayalalithaa, while creating additional posts such as additional or deputy or chief general secretary to accommodate senior leaders such as Sasikala, Sengottaiyan and E Madhusudanan.
“Sasikala will not claim to be Amma. In fact, she might issue a statement soon saying she is not Amma. She is unlikely to do anything that makes it seem like she is imitating Jayalalithaa. She will not insist that cadres touch her feet or keep her photo in their pockets. She will not ask for the security protocol that Jayalalithaa had. She knows that if she imitates Jayalalithaa until she prove herself, people won’t like it,” said a distant relative of Sasikala, who is neither in the camp of her husband Natarajan nor of her brother Dhivakaran.
On Saturday, however, there was some hint of trouble as a crowd of about 50 people gathered on the street outside Poes Garden, seeking entry to Vedanilayam, Jayalalithaa’s house within the complex where Sasikala has been living. Over the past few days, the house has been intermittently opened to the public. As police blocked the group, they raised slogans that there was “only one Amma”. An hour later, the crowd dispersed.
A senior AIADMK leader present at the spot said they were expecting more such protests. “There is a vacuum in the party. In such a huge party, there will definitely be some people who will find it difficult to accept a new leader. The party leaders elect the general secretary, not the cadres. Maybe some of them are upset,” he said.