On Wednesday, the AIADMK released photographs of VK Sasikala, long-time aide to late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, greeting party workers who had flocked to urge her to take over the reins of the party. While Sasikala’s widely rumoured ascent to the party’s powerful general secretary post is imminent, the photographs reflected an eerie similarity to Jayalalithaa’s ways of greeting her loyal party workers. In multiple photographs, Sasikala was seen folding hands as she greeted party workers, mostly men, standing at a distance with their hands folded too in reverence. It was a telling moment, ostensibly pointing to the future state of affairs in the party and the decorum in which Sasikala would conduct herself.
When Jayalalithaa was the party chief, scenes of senior leaders and party workers bowing down and falling on the ground in fervent idolisation of her were not uncommon. During election rallies, candidates would stand in rows on the dais for hours as Jayalalithaa spoke to the crowds. Occasionally, as she called out their names, they would bow their heads in gratitude for selecting them as the party’s official candidates. It was unmistakable to see Jayalalithaa keeping her distance from leaders, often reprimanding them and expelling them from the party as was clear in the case of Rajya Sabha MP Sasikala Pushpa. During cabinet meetings chaired by Jayalalithaa, leaders often recalled never having discussions as ‘Amma’ would come prepared with her decisions. The meetings would last just about 15-20 minutes, enough for the chief minister’s decisions to be ratified by the cabinet. Such was the adulation reserved for ‘Amma’ that current chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS), who stepped in for her when she was convicted in the disproportionate assets case, would keep her framed photograph on the table in front of him. Her indisputable hold over the party was also evident far away in New Delhi when AIADMK MPs both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha would pepper her name along with her title ‘puratchi thalaivi’ (revolutionary leader) in their speeches in Parliament.
Throughout her long term as the party supremo, Jayalalithaa made sure there was no second-line of leadership in the party and that all decisions regarding the AIADMK would be taken by her and her alone. While OPS, M Thambidurai and V Maitreyan qualified as senior leaders of the party, it was clear they could never pose a challenge to her. Even Sasikala, who remained ensconced in Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence for decades as her close confidante, was never seen in public a lot concerning herself with taking key decisions.
In the event of Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, all that changed with rumours even swirling that there could be a contest for the general secretary’s post. However, dismissing all gossip, the party in the hope of remaining united, has appealed to Sasikala to take control of the party that has four-and-a-half years left in power. While the unanimous clamour among workers in the party is that Jayalalithaa can never be replaced, they feel ‘chinnamma’ Sasikala is certainly fit to lead AIADMK as its chief. And the photographs released by the party Wednesday certainly attest to the same.