Interview: I’m Jayalalithaa’s Legal Heir & Will Fight, Says Niece
Interview with 42-year-old Deepa Jayakumar, the niece of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Even as late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa received treatment at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai for 75 days before she passed away on 5 December, television cameras stationed outside the hospital gates focussed on one person who was barred from meeting the 68-year-old leader.
Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s brother’s daughter, never shied away from telling the media that she was prevented from meeting her aunt both at the hospital and later at Poes Garden residence, when her body had been taken home before the funeral.
Forty two-year-old Deepa has an MA in International Journalism from Cardiff University in UK and lives in T-Nagar, Chennai.
In the last few weeks, she has raised many uncomfortable questions about Sasikala, even as her brother Deepak was seen performing the last rites alongside Sasikala at Jayalalithaa’s burial.
So, has there been a division in the family? Why has Deepa turned up suddenly staking claim to Jayalalithaa’s legacy? Deepa’s resemblance to her late aunt has not been missed by many, who have turned to her to lead the AIADMK.
Excerpts from an interview to The News Minute.
Q. All indications are that Sasikala will take charge of the party. How do you react to that?
AIADMK is a people’s party. It is a democratic set-up and someone cannot just take over the party. The person needs to get elected. Even if Sasikala or anyone else wrests power to become the party chief, they are never true leaders unless they win an election.
Q. Your brother was with Sasikala throughout Jayalalithaa’s final journey. Why? Have you both had a disagreement?
I had no clue that he was going there. We are not in bad terms, but we are different. He was quite comfortable with them, and I wasn’t. He was ready to do their bidding but I am not. I will not listen to them. It was very upsetting to see him there.
Q. But you were allowed to pay respects to Jayalalithaa’s body. How did that happen?
I reached Poes Garden at midnight and I waited for 8 hours. I begged them to let me see my aunt once, but I was denied entry. I pleaded that I will see her one last time and go away. Later in the day I went to Rajaji hall, there too I was blocked and pushed around. But I still fought, created a ruckus and managed to go inside.
Q. Your resemblance to Jayalalithaa has struck a chord with some people. You told a TV channel that you don’t mind entering politics.
If that is the people’s will, then I am not against it. This was not my ambition, but there seems to be a need. The scenes from Marina where many people came to speak to me as I went to pay respects to my aunt made me think like that.
Q. But you have no experience in politics. Are you not being opportunistic?
No, not really. Joining politics isn’t my ambition. That’s why I am repeatedly saying that it’s an option only if people want it. No one can take over the party just like that; it has to be a step-by-step process. No one can make claims that he or she is the leader. It all depends on what the people and party cadres want.
Q. When was the last time you saw Jayalalithaa?
I met her last in 2002. I went to wish her on her birthday and then spent the entire day with her. It was like a reunion. We talked about our families, our past, and the incidents that had separated us. There had been a rift for some years as there was disagreement on her choice of foster son and his grand wedding. I apologised to her for whatever had transpired and for the confusion that had created a divide. She told me not to cry and that she would be in touch.
In 2004, I spoke to her briefly again on her birthday. She spoke to me over the phone and after accepting my wishes she said she would talk to me later as she was busy. I kept trying, I kept going there, but they would never let me go inside.
But I was completely cut off after 2007.
In 2014, she was willing to see me when she was in a Bangalore jail. There too, I waited the entire day outside the jail, but was never allowed in.
Q. But why should anyone stop you from accessing her?
I don’t know why. They have to explain. I have never interacted with Sasikala either after 2002.
There is a lot of speculation about Jayalalithaa’s will. The present understanding is that there was none.
If there was indeed no will, it is completely understandable. She wanted them out. That’s why she threw Sasikala and her entire family out in 2011. I don’t know how they came back. I know my aunt would never succumb to pressure. She would never give away her properties under duress. And even if there was a will, it should be made public. I have a right over this legacy and I cannot be denied that.
Q. Have you come to the forefront now because of the property? You could be accused of that.
My answer to whoever raises this question is that the property should go to only legal heirs. This fact is not up for any discussion, that’s what the law says. Even if a deceased person has Rs 1,000, his or her kith and kin will inherit it.
If it comes to a fight, I am ready to put up a fight. I hope it does not come down to that.
And if there is a will, I am ready to explore the merits of the will.
Q. Your detractors accuse you of making a sudden comeback, showing a sudden concern for your aunt.
This is not true at all. The entire family used to live in Poes Garden. My parents got married in 1972. I was born in her house in 1974. She was the one who named me Deepa as I was born a day before Deepavali. We moved out of Poes Garden in 1978, my parents were also travelling for work. My father wanted to move out as we were a family of four and every family craves privacy.
In 1987, she came forward and said she wanted to speak to her brother. They both wept and it was an emotional time. The family was very close in the early 1990s. We spent a day with her after she was sworn in as Chief Minister in 1991, and attended the government’s first year anniversary event.
But you need to understand that everyone was busy, and she was the busiest. When my father passed away in 1995, she was heartbroken. She came for the last rites, did everything she could. She arranged for us to go to Kashi with his mortal remains and she was very insistent that all Brahminical rituals must be followed. She took care of our family after that.
So, it isn’t right for people to say I am suddenly back. We were always there; we were deliberately separated in recent times.
(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)
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