Those who are curious and concerned at Sasikala’s next move should not forget that she lived with Jayalalithaa for about three decades from 1987, and knew her personally from 1984. Even after her husband M Natarajan, a former government PRO and a sympathiser of Dravidian politics, was thrown out of ‘Vedanilayalm’ in Poes Garden in 1990, Sasikala did not join her husband but lived with Jayalalithaa until her death. Except for a period of four months when she fell out of favour with Jayalalithaa, Sasikala had lived the life of a true companion in Jayalalithaa’s life.
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According to people close to Vedanilayam, Sasikala was an essential part of Jayalalithaa’s life. She did everything from folding bedsheets to taking care of her health to running and controlling party organs including Jaya TV. Possibly the only thing that Sasikala did not do was to exhibit her political talents before public.
But she always accompanied Jayalalithaa on her temple visits, her poll campaigns as well as to private functions and her holidays in Kodanadu Estate. Moreover, Sasikala was the messenger and deal-broker of the party in poll alliance talks with smaller parties in Tamil Nadu including the CPI and CPI(M). She is considered the brain behind appointments, and she wielded powers in distributing MLA seats. She had the power to transfer top bureaucrats; according to top police officers, they were more comfortable dealing with Sasikala than Jayalalithaa who could be short tempered and unpredictable.
Public sentiments against Sasikala is largely on three factors: the criminal activities of her relatives (known as Mannargudi Mafia – as her family hails from Mannargudi), an alleged and baseless story from 2011 on Sasikala’s attempts to poison Jayalalithaa, and the mystery surrounding Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and limited information on her health until the day of her death.
However, none of the leaders at different levels – from district secretaries to MLAs, MPs and ministers — have criticised Sasikala’s leadership so far. According to a senior leader, hardly anyone would even privately share an opinion against Sasikala. “The leaders, not the cadres will elect the party General Secretary and so Sasikala is having a smooth entry into the party leadership,” he said. However, he added that the party would perish if Sasikala did not keep her relatives away from power.
The rumours of her attempts to poison Jayalalithaa, “a lie that was established by a national magazine in 2012,” according to a senior police officer who served at the state intelligence during that period, will, however, continue to haunt the minds of people having no direct access to information. Also they have enough reasons to imagine and expect such acts from ‘Mannargudi Mafia’, thanks to those extra constitutional activities, crimes, land grabbing and extortion rackets ran by her family members during the 1991-96 regime.
Conspiracy theories surrounding Jayalalithaa’s treatment have still to die down as the communication between the state health secretary J Radhakrishnan and doctors — including the AIIMS team — leaked out in the media and indicates that her treatment was not a private affair between Sasikala and Apollo Hospital, but it was an official affair involving the state government.
How fast could there be a transition of power in the AIADMK?
Sasikala is unlikely to imitate Jayalalithaa anytime soon. She is unlikely to demand the chief minister’s post either particularly because of her lack of experience in the assembly where the Opposition is powerful with over 80 DMK MLAs who are well versed in politics and administration, unlike AIADMK leaders.
“If she could control the entire party, why she should go for the CM post that demands oratorial skills in the assembly, facing the wrath of people for good or bad, receiving VIPs and foreign dignitaries etc?” asks a leader close to her camp.
Another reason is the pending disproportionate assets case in the Supreme Court. Although the party leadership is confident that the corruption case wouldn’t be a threat any more as Jayalalithaa (the prime accused) is no more. “She is unlikely to grab the CM post from Paneerselvam. The post of general secretary is already at her disposal, so either she will choose that or create another post for herself, leaving the top post vacant for the late Jayalalithaa,” said another leader.
A top level AIADMK meeting to be held soon will take a final call on the post of general secretary before December 31.