January 28, 2021 3:01:51 am
EXPELLED AIADMK leader V K Sasikala was officially released from a Bengaluru prison on Wednesday after completion of her four-year jail term in a disproportionate asset case in which former chief minister late J Jayalalithaa was also convicted. Sasikala’s return to Chennai, however, may take a few more days as she is currently undergoing treatment for Covid-19 at a hospital in Bengaluru.
After visiting the hospital, T T V Dhinakaran, her nephew and leader of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), invoking Jayalalithaa, said time has come to re-establish the real Amma government in poll-bound Tamil Nadu again.
“I do not want to speak politics on a day my aunt is getting released from prison,” he told reporters. When asked about Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami inaugurating a Jayalalithaa memorial on a day Sasikala was released, he said, “It means nothing but they are also celebrating the release [of Sasikala].”
He said recapturing AIADMK was the key objective behind the AMMK’s formation. “We will continue to work towards that,” he said.
While Sasikala never contested elections or spoke on stage for AIADMK, she commanded respect and wielded power in the party and AIADMK governments when Jayalalithaa was alive. She got the same backing when she picked O Panneerselvam for the Chief Minister’s post after Jayalalithaa’s death. Such was her influence that when Panneerselvam — allegedly with support from the BJP — revolted against Sasikala and was pushed to a trust vote, he could muster backing of only 11 AIADMK legislators, including himself, against 122 who voted with the Sasikala faction.
Before her conviction and surrender in the Bangalore prison in February 2017, the Sasikala faction managed to oust Panneerselvam and make Palaniswami, her most trusted aide, the Chief Minister.
However, much has changed in the four years that followed. Palaniswami joined hands with Panneerselvam and Sasikala was not only removed as the party general secretary but also from primary membership.
A week ago, after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Palaniswami ruled out chances of letting Sasikala return to the AIADMK. He said almost all Sasikala loyalists have abandoned her camp.
All eyes on AIADMK leadership
Sasikala's entry into mainstream politics along with her nephew T T V Dhinakaran will depend on the decision taken by the AIADMK leadership. Both ally BJP and RSS ideologues like S Gurumurthy, who earlier claimed that he advised O Panneerselvam to challenge Sasikala leadership in 2017, are now encouraging the AIADMK to engage with Sasikala for the larger cause – defeat prime rival DMK. Whether the AIADMK leadership led by Edappadi K Palaniswami will listen to that idea is to be seen in coming days. If not, most likely, the assembly elections will have a third front spoiling the game like in 2016.
Still, multiple sources in the AIADMK said there are chances of a ceasefire. “If Sasikala is not encouraged to return to the AIADMK, we cannot rule out chances of an alliance between the AMMK and AIADMK,” said a party leader who still has sympathy for Sasikala. He said many party leaders are thankful to Sasikala even if they are unable to speak out ahead of the polls.
If Sasikala and Dhinakaran get no room in the AIADMK, the state may witness formation of a third front for the upcoming assembly elections, with the possibility of some parties in the ruling alliance breaking away.
S Ramadoss’s PMK and Captain Vijayakanth’s DMDK are some of the parties that are likely to join the Sasikala camp if they do not get the number of seats they demand in the AIADMK-BJP alliance.
While PMK doesn’t have a single MLA in the assembly, it commands a significant vote base in northern Tamil Nadu’s OBC-Vanniyar community. In the 2016 assembly polls, the party bagged a vote share of 5.32 per cent although it did not win a single seat.
Captain Vijayakanth’s wife Premalatha, who had earlier made statements that Sasikala’s significance cannot be ruled out, told reporters on Wednesday that Palaniswami was not a Chief Minister elected by the people but by his party. She was referring to internal clashes in the AIADMK that made Sasikala pick him for the top job while the AIADMK won the 2016 polls projecting Jayalalithaa as the Chief Minister.
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