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Explained: What could Sasikala’s return mean for AIADMK and Tamil Nadu?

Sasikala's plans seem to be driven by the eroding relationship between AIADMK leaders Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam. The rift presents her with an opportunity to regain a foothold in state politics.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: June 2, 2021 2:02:44 pm
In March, Sasikala had announced she was stepping aside from active politics. (File photo)

Months after she announced in March that she was “stepping aside” from active politics, the late J Jayalalithaa’s close aide V K Sasikala has now been sending signals about an imminent return to politics (The Indian Express, May 31).

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What can be the reason behind these signals?

Her decision to “step aside” from politics had come a month before the Assembly polls in April. Sasikala, arrested in 2017 following her conviction in a case of disproportionate assets, was released in January this year. Although there had been efforts at merging her camp with the AIADMK then, too, these had fallen through amid pressure from power centres in New Delhi.

Her plans to return now seem to be driven by the eroding relationship between the two top AIADMK leaders — former Chief Ministers Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam, later Deputy CM. The rift presents her with an opportunity to regain a foothold in state politics.

“It was clear that the DMK was going to win the election. Despite that, talks were held and the BJP-RSS leadership also engaged in negotiations for a merger between Sasikala camp and the AIADMK before polls,” said a source close to Sasikala.

Panneerselvam had supported the idea of her comeback while Palaniswami had opposed it, fearing that Sasikala would capture the party if she and her nephew T T V Dhinakaran were given the space, according to the source. “After her release from prison, she had nothing to gain immediately except control over the party, which was impossible before the polls,” the source said.

The source said she is likely to begin work from July or August, “with a state-wide tour”.

How can her return impact AIADMK?

Sasikala’s camp expects the tussle between Palaniswami and Panneerselvam camps to escalate in the coming weeks on account of Palaniswami’s unprecedented hold in the party. At a time when both leaders want to emerge as No. 1 in AIADMK, Sasikala’s target is Palaniswami.

Panneerselvam, who is the coordinator of the AIADMK, is expected to support her if she comes forward to lead a political front, said one of the AIADMK leaders in touch with the Sasikala camp.

“Panneerselvam is backed by only one MLA and one MP, while all other MLAs support Palaniswami. A few more MLAs from various regions except Western Kongu too might join the Sasikala camp,” the source said.

Notably, the DMK government has given more prominence to Panneerselvam in several functions in recent weeks. This has raised eyebrows, as Palaniswami is Leader of Opposition.

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Why does Sasikala target Palaniswami and not Panneerselvam?

Sasikala has had been involved in separate power tussles with both leaders. After Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, it was Panneerselvam who had led a revolt in the party questioning Sasikala’s authority. Palaniswami, on the other hand, is the man she chose as Chief Minister before she was sent to Bengaluru prison in early 2017.

“Sasikala had recommended Panneerselvam’s name, and it was Jayalalithaa made him the CM in 2001 and 2014. But in the case of Palaniswami, it was Sasikala who chose him for the CM’s post at a crucial juncture,” a source close to Sasikala said, explaining why she is upset with Palaniswami.

“She trusted him immensely. He was tasked to handle the resources of AIADMK. But he became the main hurdle to her return to the party after her release from prison,” the source said. “Panneerselvam is seen as a harmless leader who was trapped by the BJP-RSS leadership. When he realised the mistake, he met Dhinakaran and there was a reconciliation. But Palaniswami used his power to not only oust her but also capture the party, sidelining Panneerselvam,” the source said.

Where is Dhinakaran placed if Sasikala returns?

Dhinakaran, who is now leading the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), is the political face of Sasikala’s camp. “If she plans to make a comeback, she will be Rajmata,” said a close relative.

Dhinakaran’s leadership in Sasikala’s absence had taken off well, with his victory as an independent candidate in the R K Nagar bypoll of 2017. But his support base subsequently dwindled, as he ended up with just a 2.35% vote share in the Assembly polls. His party lost all seats, including his, but it did spoil the prospects of AIADMK in the Cauvery Delta region and some southern districts.

Dhinakaran’s close aides such as Senthil Balaji, once a powerful AIADMK leader from Karur in Kongu region, has since joined DMK later and now holds a Cabinet berth in the government.

“At one point, Dhinakaran began to disappoint many promising leaders who had stood with him. On the legal battle over the disqualification of MLAs, he took certain decisions on his own that proved suicidal for his party and also badly affected the career of MLAs who had trusted him. Regaining that trust also would be a major challenge before Sasikala and Dhinakaran if they want to regain power in AIADMK,” said a senior AIADMK leader who is in touch with Sasikala.

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