Chennai: Ahead of being jailed on Wednesday, VK Sasikala executed precise action to ensure that the controls of her party, the AIADMK, will remain firmly in her clutches. Two nephews, expelled by party matriarch J Jayalalithaa in 2011 were brought back to the party by her; one of them, TTV Dinakaran, was made the party’s No 2 with the title of Deputy General Secretary. Ms Sasikala retains the most powerful position of General Secretary.
As she headed in a convoy of cars to present herself in neighbouring Karnataka to be jailed, her husband, M Natarajan, who she had to publicly disown to reunite with Ms Jayalalithaa in 2012 after a falling out. “Yes, I’m in touch with Sasikala. I am going to the airport (to fly to Bangalore for Sasikala’s surrender before the court),” the controversial businessman said before driving away in a grey BMW.
Ms Sasikala, a video cassette seller who also made the occasional promotional film for the AIADMK, met Ms Jayalalithaa, who had ended her blockbuster movie star career to enter politics, in the 80s. Their friendship was tested by corruption scandals, and at times, interrupted, but they always returned to each other, with Ms Jayalalithaa describing her aide as the woman who ran her house and provided her emotional support in the assertively male world of Tamil Nadu politics.
At the end of 2011, Ms Sasikala, Mr Natarajan and 12 of their relatives were ejected from the AIADMK by Ms Jayalalithaa on charges of conspiring against the party, though it was reportedly their attempt to influence administrative decisions and appointments that were a significant constituent of the large and very public estrangement. Ms Sasikala was asked to move out of Ms Jayalalithaa’s bungalow in Poes Garden in Chennai. To return, months later, she had to pledge no contact with her male relatives including her husband. When Ms Jayalalithaa died in December, his presence at the funeral, where Ms Sasikala performed the last rites, was seen by some as an audacious move. At the time, the AIADMK offered a defense. “In her moment of agony and crisis, probably Sasikala would have needed her family members around her,” said V Maitreyan, a parliamentarian, who has since turned on Ms Sasikala in a feud over who should be Chief Minister now.
It is in no small measure that Ms Sasikala’s family intertwined with Ms Jayalalithaa. The Supreme Court yesterday found Ms Sasikala guilty of conspiring with Ms Jayalalithaa during the politician’s first term as Chief Minister in the early 90s to illegally build a fortune that included prized real estate. Ms Sasikala’s sister-in-law, Ilavarasi, and her nephew, TTV Sudhakaran, were also found convicted. All three are sentenced to four years in prison In 1995, Mr Sudhakaran’s wedding, an uninhibited parade of money, thousands of guests, hundreds of elephants and chefs, and saris and jewelry, turned into a sinkhole for Ms Jayalalithaa, who had adopted him as her foster son. The scale of the arrangements impelled protests and court cases, alleging that Ms Jayalalithaa had abused her office at Chief Minister. She was famously photographed with Ms Sasikala in identical silk saris, laden with gold, including matching waistbands. The politician disowned Mr Sudhkaran a year later, when she was also voted out.
It is Mr Sudharakan’s brother who has been given made the party’s deputy chief today. Justifying his return two months after Ms Jayalalithaa’s death, Ms Sasikala said he had “apologized in writing and in person”. The other nephew who’s back in the AIADMK fold is Dr S Venkatesh.
Ms Sasikala’s family, disparagingly dubbed “the Mannargudi mafia” after their hometown, was one of the reasons why public anger surged when the AIADMK revealed it had picked her to replace O Panneerselvam as Chief Minister about 10 days ago. Online campaigns like #SasiakalaNotMyCM also ridiculed the positioning of a political novice for the state’s top job.
With Mr Panneerselvam refusing to surrender office, Ms Sasikala has nominated loyalist and minister E Palaniswamy as the AIADMK’s presumptive Chief Minister. It’s now up to Gvoernor C Vidyasagar Rao to decide who should be given the chance to prove a majority in the legislature, when, and how.