AIADMK Adamant, BJP Calculative as Sasikala Released From Prison
Sasikala was released from the Parappana Agrahara prison in Bengaluru, Karnataka, on Wednesday, 27 January.
“No chance”, is what Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said on January 19, ruling out VK Sasikala’s return to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
In the stormy political scene of Tamil Nadu, however, Sasikala who is currently lodged at Victoria Hospital in Bengaluru owing to fever and breathing problems, is still an unassailable presence. Sasikala is a former aide of late TN Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The Supreme Court had convicted her on charges of amassing disproportionate assets in 2017, a year after Jayalalithaa’s demise.
Sasikala had tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was hospitalised on 20 January. She was released from prison on 27 January.
As followers of her party Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), prepare a grand reception for their 'Chinnamma’ (mother’s younger sister), The Quint explains why the ruling AIADMK is cautious and the Bharatiya Janata Party elated about her return to TN political scene, especially since the state’s assembly elections are slated for April-May 2021.
Love-Hate Relationship With Jayalalithaa
Vivekanandan Krishnaveni Sasikala met Jayalalithaa through her husband M Natarajan. In the early 1980s, Sasikala’s husband worked closely with the Cuddalore District Collector VS Chandralekha a close aide of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran who was Jayalalithaa’s mentor. As they belonged to the influential Kallar caste, the husband and wife duo soon became close confidants of Amma, as Jayalalithaa is popularly known. While Jayalalithaa soon fell out with Natarajan, Sasikala remained her close friend, often seen in public functions with her. In 1995, the two women leaders were seen attending the extravagant wedding of Sasikala’s foster son VN Sudhakaran who got married in a pandal sprawling over 75,000 Sq.ft.
“From running the household, taking care of Jayalalithaa needs, entertaining visitors, managing Jaya TV, Sasikala was her best friend through it all. But Amma was clear about how it was only she who was the leader, not Sasikala,”A source close to Jayalalithaa told The Quint.
In 2011, Amma expelled the couple, Sudhakaran and Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran from AIADMK, to assert the fact that the family has no influence over her functioning. Sasikala, however, was reinstated a year later when she rendered a written apology to Jayalalithaa. According to TN political circles, after Amma’s demise Sasikala felt that the AIADMK would support her leadership. However, in the party marred by faction feuds, this was not to be.
General Secretary and Almost CM
On 29 December 2016, when the first party meeting since Jayalalithaa's death was held, the AIADMK general council amended the bye-laws and unanimously appointed Sasikala as the party's general secretary. She was soon slated to be CM with the support of Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS) wing and O. Paneerselvam (OPS) wing of AIADMK. On 6 February 2017, OPS even resigned from his position as acting Chief Minister to pave the way for Sasikala. However, as the Supreme Court verdict convicting her came in shortly after, both EPS and OPS factions colluded to sideline her. As she was thrown out of AIADMK, Sasikala and her nephew T.T.V Dinakaran founded the party, Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam (AMMK) in August 2017.
However, in the public eye Sasikala remained a spectacle all thanks to her lasting association with Jayalalithaa. Meaning, as long as she holds on to the Amma legacy, she will remain relevant in TN.
Chief Minister Palaniswamy was the first to respond to Sasikala’s imminent release from prison. He recently tried to dent her association with Amma by deciding to hold the inauguration of Jayalaithaa memorial at Marina beach on 27 January, the date Sasikala is to be released from prison.
Here’s why. On her way to the prison in 2017, Sasikala had stopped at Amma’s resting place to engage in what many observers called theatrics. With eyes teared up and lips muttering, she slammed the memorial thrice, making a statement. AIADMK had then tweeted that her three thumps were for three vows, "I will overcome hurdle(s), treachery and (the) plotting (against me)." Judging by the inaguration day, it is clear that Palanisamy didn’t want a repeat of that.
“I think he is under-confident otherwise, there was no needto schedule it on the same day. AIADMK is holding a meeting with district secretaries the previous day and I am sure they will be instructed to bring their people as a show of strength.”RK Radhakrishnan, Senior Journalist and Political Analyst
AIADMK needs to be wary as Sasikala enjoys the loyalty of several senior and mid-level leaders of the party as she belongs to the Kallar community which is part of the larger Thevar caste. “She and Dhinakaran have command over the community, but so does O Panneerselvam. So yes, the votes could get divided but we need to see who the people decide to choose,” Radhakrishnan said. Also, there are Sasikala sympathisers in Palaniswamy’s camp too, he added. Especially since AIADMK has not succeeded in conclusively settling rumours surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death, the party is still on shaky grounds, a political analyst opined.
Meanwhile, after Rajinikanth called it quits on politics, the BJP is looking at Sasikala’s arrival as an opportunity to arm-twist its ally, the AIADMK, analysts said.
Trump Card for the BJP?
On 14 January, during the 51st Anniversary of Thuglak magazine, Thuglak Editor and RSS sympathiser S Gurumurthy had said, “When a house is on fire you do not wait for water from the Ganges to put out the fire. You will even use sewer water for the purpose. Similarly, whether it is Sasikala or anyone else, when you gather as an alliance or a front you can't wait for Ganga water, you have to accept all kinds of water." Gurumurthy, a key link for BJP in the state had earlier strongly opposed the elevation of Sasikala to AIADMK general secretary post. His softer observation is believed to be an indication that the BJP could be reconsidering its stand on Sasikala, especially since the observation was made in the presence of BJP President JP Nadda.
“Since, the vote banks of Sasikala and OPS are overlapping, the BJP will wait to see how the ruling party is faring in the elections. Also, if Sasikala joins AIADMK, it will affect the public image of the party. But we can’t rule out any post-poll alliance, if AIADMK falls short,” a source said.
She added, “BJP might be considering taking her back, maybe in a post-poll alliance. But if AIADMK agrees to it, then they will lose loyalty of the people”. However, this calculation will hold only if AMMK floats candidates and contests the polls as predicted.
Will Sasikala venture out to try her luck in polls?
TTV Dhinakaran already has a stunning victory in his bag when he won by a thumping margin against AIADMK’s Madhusudhanan in the bypoll to Jayalalithaa’s seat RK Nagar. Though there were several instances of cash-for-votes cited by the opposition party, Dhinakaran had set a new record in Tamil Nadu, contesting as an independent candidate.
TTV Dhinakaran has been reportedly doing groundwork to weigh people’s sentiments.
He is expected to make a major announcement by February this year.
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