After all the anticipation regarding who will take over as General Secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) post the death of J Jayalalithaa, her close aide and confidant Sasikala Natarajan has been appointed to the role till she is formally elected. While making the appointment, Sasikala’s contribution to the growth of the party was cited as deserving credit. However, Sasikala’s rise to fame in Tamil Nadu politics owes less to her leadership qualities and more to the enigmatic and yet firm relationship she shared with the late chief minister.
Being the closest aide of Jayalalithaa, it was she who stood unyielding beside her in the last hours before her death. It was Sasikala who managed the party affairs when the beloved Amma of Tamil Nadu was admitted in hospital. Sasikala’s presence beside the late chief minister in her final hours, in the absence of any other family member of Jayalalithaa had made clear who would have the reigns of party power following her demise.
Sasikala was born in Mannargudi, a small town in Tamil Nadu. Her parents, though not very rich, belonged to the influential kallar community. Sasikala was introduced to Jayalalithaa about twenty years later in 1976 through the district collector of Cuddalore, V S Chandralekha.
When Sasikala first met Jayalalithaa, she worked as a video recorder. Her husband at this point in time had lost his job and her family was going through a rough path with finances. Following her introduction to Jayalalithaa, Sasikala started recording all her public events. With time their friendship grew, and she would be seen alongside Jayalalithaa in all her rallies and other events.
After the death of Jayalalithaa’s political mentor MGR in 1987, Sasikala is said to have offered emotional support to Jayalalithaa. In 1989, she moved into the late chief minister’s residence at Poes Garden and is reported to have got 40 domestic helps with her from her hometown.
Sasikala along with her husband and extended family had taken complete control over AIADMK functioning. She was in fact described by Jayalalithaa as her udanpiravaa sagodhari (sister not related through blood). A crucial milestone in the relationship between the two was when Jayalalithaa’s foster son, Sudhakaran, who was also nephew of Sasikala was married off to the granddaughter of actor, Sivaji Ganesan. The opulence showered in the wedding had left Tamil Nadu stunned. Following the wedding and the controversy surrounding it, Sudhakaran maintained a distance with Sasikala.
The following year in 1996, the AIADMK lost the state elections, and Sasikala was arrested on orders of the DMK led government for violating the Foreign Exchange Reugulation Act (FERA). While Jayalalithaa did distance herself from Sasikala following her arrest, things soon smoothed out.
The stumbling block in their relationship came in 2011, when Sasikala was dramatically ousted from the Poes Garden residence. The move was taken by Jayalalithaa on account of reports she had of Sasikala and her clan plotting to seize power in the event of the former’s arrest on grounds of corruption charges. Along with her, 14 of her family were also expelled. However, the bitterness in their relationship was short lived and Sasikala soon returned to Jayalalithaa’s favour, though her family along with her husband remained deposed.
When Jayalalithaa was arrested on account of the Tamsi land scam in 2014, Sasikala was arrested along with her for a period of four years. She was also asked to pay a fine of Rs. 10 crore.
While Sasikala has been a noticeable public figure since the 1980s, she was especially involved in the party politics since the time Jayalalithaa fell ill. After Jayalalithaa’s death, her entire family, earlier expelled by the former chief minister, suddenly made a controversial re-appearance.
Sasikala has never made a public speech and definitely lacks the charisma and personality that marked Jayalalithaa’s career. However, the ingenuity with which she has kept the party glued together post the death of Amma is being regarded as her achievement and the reason for her succession to the role of General Secretary.