With the death of its most charismatic leader, the question that is engaging the AIADMK leaders, cadre and others is who will now head the party after Jayalalithaa and whether it could be her close aide Sasikala. Filling the void may not be quite easy given the absence of a second line of leadership and the absence of any “heir” identified by the late leader, who had the party under her total command.
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An indication of things to come may be had from the fact that Chief Minister O Panneerselvam today held two-hour long discussions with Sasikala, who is widely perceived to be a power centre in the party, more so after Jayalalithaa’s death.
Sasikala’s supporters in the party claim that she should be the “natural choice,” for the post of General Secretary held by Jayalalithaa, not all others are willing to concede it. Her mentor MGR had held the post from the party’s inception in 1971 till his death in 1987.
Sasikala’s supporters say that she had been Amma’s “aide, sister, friend and confidante,” for 30 years through Jayalalithaa’s “ups and downs.” With O Panneerselvam taking over as Chief Minister, she should be the “ideal choice,” they say.
A senior party functionary requesting anonymity said, “go back in history and make your own inference if Amma’s loyalists and people will accept her (Sasikala).”
He recalled Jayalalithaa expelling Sasikala twice from the party, once in 1996 after the AIADMK’s electoral drubbing and in 2011 months after the party wrested power again from DMK. Such factors had cast a shadow on her as a potential choice to lead the party, he said.
He said Amma herself had announced in 1996 that she was distancing herself from Sasikala and her family to respect the wishes of partymen.
Sasikala’s expulsion came against the background of allegations of corruption during the 1991-96 AIADMK regime. The DMK government had arrested Jayalalitha and Sasikala and filed cases against them.
It was also in deference to a public perception that AIADMK was routed in the 1996 Assembly polls only because of Jayalalithaa’s association with Sasikala and her kin.
In particular, the extravagant wedding of Jayalalithaa’s foster son VN Sudhakaran, since disowned, in 1995 as among the reasons for her expulsion.
On December 19, 2011, Sasikala, her husband M Natarajan, and 12 others who were their close relatives were expelled from the primary membership of the party.
Sasikala, who was staying with Jayalalithaa in her Poes Garden residence was also made to move out. However, on both instances, the expulsion was revoked in a matter of months and Sasikala made a comeback winning back the trust of Amma.
Called “Chinnamma,” (Younger Amma) by her supporters she undoubtedly wielded significant clout in the party and continues to do so. The question is whether her role will be formalised now.
Political analyst Gnani Shankaran said people knew that Sasikala was a “power centre” in AIADMK even while Jayalalithaa was alive. Asked if people would accept her as AIADMK chief, in the role previously held by Jayalalithaa, he said,”it would be known only during elections.”
An AIADMK former Minister said, “we are not thinking about it now,we are in mourning…where is the hurry about all that…it is not something that can be decided by holding discussions with journalists or the media.”
Without going deep into the issue, he said there are several deserving contenders in any party for any position. The question of who should be elected as General Secretary had to go through several stages at multiple levels like a general council meeting, he added.
Coimbatore party workers said the western belt of Tamil Nadu (called “Kongunadu” in Tamil), “actually propelled” the prospects of party in several elections and it has senior leaders like K A Sengottaiyan and M Thambidurai from the region.
While Sengottaiyan was a staunch MGR and Jayalalithaa loyalist, he stood behind Amma when she began piecing together the party after AIADMK founder chief MGR’s death in 1987, they said.
Mentioning the name of Thambidurai, they said he was similarly a long-time follower of Amma, who was chosen by her for the post of Deputy Lok Sabha speaker like MGR did in 1985.
Party workers from Madurai region including Theni cited names of “grassroots leaders” including Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s name.
Like the Western belt, the AIADMK has an edge over DMK in Madurai and its neighbouring districts given its core support base among the dominant caste group of Mukkulathor.
Though there are other names including those belonging to the “old school” of the party like Panruti S Ramachandran, it is unlikely that their names could gain traction given the present party dynamics, they said.