Making of Chinnamma: How Sasikala’s Anointment Was Stage-Managed

In all likelihood, preparation for Sasikala’s appointment as AIADMK chief began right after Jayalalithaa’s death

Published
Politics
5 min read
People hold up cards showing Sasikala Natarajan with late Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa in Chennai. (Photo: PTI)

In all likelihood, the preparation for Sasikala Natarajan to take over the AIADMK began in the immediate aftermath of Jayalalithaa’s death, with her standing by the body all day on 6 December, and occupying the forefront till Jayalalithaa was laid to rest.

But it wasn’t until 29 December, when the General Council of the AIADMK met to take a decision on who should be the next General Secretary of the party, that her central standing received the party’s formal stamp.

The day went past like a bland screenplay, no twists and no turns. Every single aspect seemed to have been stage-managed, right from the timing of announcements to ‘calls’ for Sasikala to take over the party, to even the banners and posters adorning public corners. 

The 29 December meeting of the AIADMK General Council was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am. But leaders started rolling in as early as 8 am. On the way to the venue of the meeting at a huge hall in Vanagaram on the outskirts of Chennai, Jayalalithaa’s posters dotted the Maduravayol Road. There was not a single poster of Sasikala to be seen.

  • AIASMK supporter standing near a poster of J jayalalithaa in Chennai. (Photo: The News Minute)

Closer to the venue, while the posters and banners were huge, the crowd was thin. Apart from the 2,700-odd members of the General Council who were to attend the meeting, there were only a couple of hundred cadres at the venue. The mood was sombre, there was no euphoria or excitement in the air.

The security was heavy, and more than matched up to the number of attendees. A Deputy Commissioner of police at the venue said that more than 2,000 policemen were on duty, including about 200 officers. The security was perhaps high to prevent violence, especially in light of the attack on MP Sasikala Pushpa’s husband the previous day at the party HQ.

The media was not allowed to enter the venue, and only those with General Council passes were let into the campus. On their way in, AIADMK leaders remained tight-lipped. Panruti Ramachandran refused to say anything more than that a decision on the post of the General Secretary would be taken at the meeting.

At 9 am, CM O Panneerselvam arrived at the venue, and at 9:30 am the meeting started, just as planned. Amma was present at the venue in spirit, in the form of a portrait on an empty chair at the centre of the stage.

OPS then rose to propose that E Madhusudhanan, the Presidium chairman, preside over the meeting. Soon after, the booklet with the 14 resolutions to be passed in the meeting were handed out to all members. The resolutions were presented one by one, with Pollachi Jayaraman presenting the condolence resolution and OPS proposing Sasikala’s name as the General Secretary. All the resolutions were passed unanimously.

The AIADMK General Council’s meeting at Vanagaram in Chennai on 29 December 2016. (Photo: PTI)
The AIADMK General Council’s meeting at Vanagaram in Chennai on 29 December 2016. (Photo: PTI)

The booklet of resolutions, 40 pages long, was ostensibly printed in advance. Clearly, there was no actual decision to be taken at the meeting. The meeting was the customary nod to all the resolutions, including that Sasikala should be appointed the General Secretary of the party, with all the powers of a GS, until she was elected to be one as the party’s constitution demands.

At 10:20 am, OPS, Thambidurai and Edappadi Palanisamy walked out of the meeting to meet Sasikala at Poes Garden to convey the decision to her, while the meeting was still going on.

Just as this was happening, a giant banner of Sasikala and Jayalalithaa came up outside the venue. This poster was not to be seen earlier, and was erected just after the resolutions were passed. A small group of Sasikala supporters now gathered outside the venue holding her posters, and ‘demanded’ that she lead the AIADMK. A well-produced song, welcoming Chinnammma and appealing to her to lead the party, was now playing outside the venue.

M Dhanam from Chepauk was one of the members of the party asking for Sasikala to accept the post.

We accept Sasikala whole-heartedly. She will take forward the legacy and schemes of Amma. This is a decision taken by all of Tamil Nadu, it is Chinnamma only for us now.
Sasikala pays tribute to J Jayalalithaa after she was appointed as AIADMK General Secretary in Chennai on Thursday, 29 December 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Sasikala pays tribute to J Jayalalithaa after she was appointed as AIADMK General Secretary in Chennai on Thursday, 29 December 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Back at Poes Garden, the usual energy of the cadre was nowhere to be seen. On the days of big events, Poes Garden usually bustles with thousands of people, especially passionate women swearing by Amma. On Thursday, there were no more than a couple of hundred workers, and less than 20 women.

Later, even as the media started reporting that the Madras HC has raised suspicions over Jayalalithaa’s death, OPS was meeting Sasikala to present the resolutions to her.

Within minutes, there were celebrations at the Vanagaram venue. The auspicious pumpkin with a burning camphor on it was broken at the gate to welcome Sasikala as the head of the party.

Meanwhile, back at the venue of the GC meeting, things had started to die down. And the question for those outside of the immediate circle of the AIADMK, is this: How could the AIADMK have allowed this to happen? Why was there not even an attempt to challenge Sasikala? Was it fear?

A member who had attended the GC Meeting and is walking away from it alone, identifying himself only as Selvam, shoots back, “It’s not fear.” He turns candid and asks:

Who else is there? We don’t have a choice now. There is no real excitement in the party about her take-over, but should we not have another leader to challenge her? The party has to survive.

Meanwhile, an old man who has been selling AIADMK memorabilia nearby, with images of Jayalalithaa and MGR, has now moved on to new cards, with images of Sasikala on them.

(This article was published in an arrangement with The News Minute)

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