Sidelined AIADMK leader V K Sasikala’s husband M Natarajan died at a city hospital in the wee hours on Tuesday. He underwent a liver and kidney transplant in last October. Natarajan was admitted to Gleneagles Global hospital in the city for the past two weeks with “severe” chest infection and his condition was “critical” in the last few days. He was 74.
Both a hero and villain in the state politics for over three decades, Natarajan who began his political career as a sympathiser of Dravidian movement is also known as a kingmaker of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in her emergence as the leader of AIADMK after the death of her mentor and party founder M G Ramachandran.
It was in 1975, Natarajan known as a DMK worker, had married V K Sasikala. DMK leader M Karunanidhi is said to have attended their wedding. It was the camaraderie of Natarajan, who joined the government service as an assistant public relations officer, a post usually filled by political appointees, with the then Cuddalore district collector V S Chandralekha had later helped his wife Sasikala to get access into Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa, who was a friend of Chandralekha. Sasikala had soon occupied a key position in Jayalalithaa’s political rallies shooting the videos of all her political rallies.
While Sasikala became a close aide of Jayalalithaa in the late 1980s, she had shifted her stay to Vedanilayam residence of Jayalalithaa along with Natarajan, a period when Jayalalithaa faced crucial challenges in the party from none other than Janaki Ramachandran, wife of MGR. During the period, Natarajan was not only a helping hand for Jayalalithaa but also acted as a kingmaker who mobilised maximum support for Jayalalithaa besides ensuring her physical safety by bringing dozens of men from Mannargudi, the native of Sasikala in Thanjavur.
However, in 1990, when Natarajan fell out of favour with Jayalalithaa and was asked to leave her residence, his life too has changed. Sasikala chose to live the life of a true companion in Jayalalithaa’s life since 1990, leaving her husband alone. While Natarajan’s life was more often that of a hero and the villain, often mobilising strength for AIADMK from various corners while also being a villain in Jayalalithaa’s highly centralised party structure.
While leading a life alone with Jayalalithaa, it was Sasikala’s personal disagreements with Natarajan’s conduct that made him a permanent enemy of Jayalalithaa too, during her second regime between 2001 and 2006. At a time when Jayalalithaa’s health was failing and many had speculated a conviction in the disproportionate asset case, an intelligence report on the alleged conspiracy of Natarajan to find a successor for Jayalalithaa and a couple of calls he made to the Poes Garden to speak to Sasikala had led to the brief ouster of Sasikala too in 2011.
While Sasikala had been playing the role of messenger and dealer of the party in poll alliance talks with smaller parties in Tamil Nadu including CPI and CPI(M), it was Natarajan who supported her mission often, thanks to his deep-rooted friendships with veteran Dravidian leaders. If Sasikala was the master brain in political and non-political appointments, party insiders recall how Natarajan too had wielded powers in distributing MLA seats when Jayalalithaa was alive.
Top intelligence officials and political leaders credit Natarajan for the second consecutive victory of AIADMK by forming a third front in 2016 as Natarajan’s idea did help to weaken the anti-government votes that would have led to the victory of DMK. However, Natarajan’s re-entry into Jayalalithaa’s residence happened only on the eve of her death. Like he played the crucial role of an intermediary between MGR and Jayalalithaa after she was sidelined by her mentor in the party, Natarajan was yet again active in political manoeuvring using his good old contacts in Dravidian and Tamil nationalist circles after Jayalalithaa’s death too, facilitating the visit of many small party leaders to Sasikala to strengthen her leadership inside and outside the party.
Tamil leaders like K Veeramani and Vaiko, who headed the third front in May 2016 polls, were among the senior leaders who are known for her close links to Natarajan.
Soon after Jayalalithaa’s death, a period when BJP at the Centre was alleged of hijacking AIADMK leadership, it was Natarajan who first raised his voice against BJP and RSS, in January 2017, accusing BJP of trying to split AIADMK and destabilise the government in Tamil Nadu. A few weeks later, the party faced a split with the rebellion of O Panneerselvam against Sasikala.
While the final role he played in the politics, behind the curtains, was to strengthen the authority of Sasikala in the party and the government, he was also holding talks smaller parties in the state to realign the political equations with the help of smaller parties including Congress, CPI, CPI(M) and Dalit party VCK extending support.
Sasikala who is serving a sentence in the disproportionate asset case was granted an emergency parole on Tuesday afternoon to attend her husband’s funeral to be held on Wednesday at Thanjavur.