How Sasikala Kept TN Politicians on Their Toes During Her Parole
Sasikala is shrewd enough to know that the Jaya connect will remain her passport to political redemption.
Late evening on 6 October, by the time VK Sasikala arrived at her niece Krishnapriya's residence in T Nagar in Chennai, the crowd had melted away considerably. There was none of the enthusiasm that the AIADMK cadre usually display for the TV cameras.
The farewell, five days later on 12 October, was a better organised effort, with some 50 members of Sasikala faction of the AIADMK using their lung power to tell their leader they care. The slogan "Chinamma Vaazhga'' (Long Live Chinamma) rent the air, with women armed with traditional aarti plates performing pujas before her vehicle.
On cue, Sasikala – a la Jayalalithaa – switched on the overhead light in the car, giving the cadre a glimpse of her face. But she was careful not to roll down the windows, because interacting with the public could have been construed as a violation of the parole rules.
"Tirumbi varavangae neengal" (you will come back), said many a lady, weeping. Jaya TV cameras had been placed at vantage positions to capture the best visuals of the vehicle exiting T Nagar and proceeding to Bengaluru. She had to get back to the central prison by evening at the end of her five-day long parole.
Except near Raj Bhavan, where some 70-odd party workers with AIADMK flags stopped the vehicle again, Team Sasikala had decided against making any pitstops on the way to Parappana Agrahara.
Sasikala had reportedly requested that she wanted to spend at least five minutes at the Jayalalithaa memorial, but her relatives counselled her not to be seen in a public place, as that could affect chances of a parole in the future.
A Relieved Ruling AIADMK Faction
The ruling faction of the AIADMK would have heaved a sigh of relief at Sasikala's exit from Chennai, for there was considerable speculation over whether she could retrieve the situation for her nephew TTV Dinakaran.
In the eight months that she has been in jail, her position has been reduced from being the power behind the throne in February, to a former general secretary of the party, removed unceremoniously from the post.
Edappadi Palaniswami, whom she made CM, turned Brutus, just like O Panneerselvam earlier whom she made CM after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016.
While the Mannargudi family is tight-lipped over what Sasikala did at home – before and after her daily visit to the Gleneagles Global Hospital to meet her ailing husband M Natarajan – developments outside have given a clue as to what may have been cooking inside.
Ripples Within the Government
Two days after Sasikala came out, Cooperation minister Sellur Raju praised her, saying she had played a key role in ensuring continuance of the party in the government. “Chinamma is responsible for AIADMK remaining in power. There is no second opinion about it,” the senior leader from Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu, said.
As expected, it created ripples, given that Sasikala has acquired enemy status for the top leadership of the AIADMK. Importantly, it fit right in with Dinakaran's assertion that his sleeper cells in the ruling camp would come out to support Sasikala in the event of a floor test in the Tamil Nadu assembly.
Another indication was the radio silence displayed by ministers known to be Sasikala loyalists. Textiles minister OS Manian claimed he would meet Sasikala when she was out on parole, but stayed away after learning that she was instructed to refrain from meeting politicians. Others, like Rajendra Balaji and CV Shanmugham, also kept quiet when Sasikala was in Chennai.
A Cautious Mannargudi Clan
With an official from Karnataka and cops from Tamil Nadu intelligence swarming Krishnapriya's residence 24x7, Dinakaran ensured only family members met her. While he was the only party person who got to spend time with her at length, other members of their camp – including spokespersons like CR Saraswati and Apsara Reddy – had to make do with greeting her at the entrance to the residence.
Sources say it is unlikely that Sasikala would not have spoken to key loyalists over the phone.
It was always known that while she did want to meet Natarajan, the real purpose of the parole was political. Those aware of the way the AIADMK worked know that Sasikala, and not Jayalalithaa, was the go-to person inside Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden when the former CM was alive.
Having provided political oxygen to many a MLA and MP, Sasikala may have used a phone to reach out and tell them it is payback time. How that pressure tactic manifests itself will be revealed in how political developments unfold over the next few days and weeks.
Though she was careful to maintain a low profile, it is obvious that Sasikala isn’t walking away into the sunset.
To emphasise her tag as the political inheritor of Jayalalithaa's legacy, she visited the Ganesha temple that the former AIADMK supremo used to visit.
Before she left Chennai, party cadre asked her to name five newborns. She christened two of them Jayashree while a third was named Jayaarasi. The Jaya connect, Sasikala is shrewd enough to know, will remain her passport to political redemption.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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