Sasikala as CM: How Amma’s Aide, Her Kin Paved The Path to Power
Exactly two months after former TN CM J Jayalalithaa breathed her last at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, her close aide VK Sasikala was elected as the leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party, making way for her to take over as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. On Sunday afternoon, TN CM O Pannerselvam arrived at the Poes Garden residence of Sasikala, ostensibly took instructions from her and then went straight to the AIADMK party HQ, where a meeting of party MLAs was scheduled.
At 3 pm or so, OPS appeared on Jaya TV from the party HQ and announced his resignation. Amidst cheerful applause from the MLAs, he declared that general secretary VK Sasikala has been elected the leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party, clearing the path for her to take oath as the CM and take charge of Fort St George.
Going by initial reactions, many seem to have expected this, several others remain surprised, but the road to CM Chinnama was meticulously laid by Sasikala and her family, with every step planned with precision.
Panneerselvam Guards the Seat
That Sasikala and her family were able to achieve this without any real challenge from any quarter goes to the fact that even when Jayalalithaa was in power, the Mannargudi family had penetrated every layer of the party and the government, and Jayalalithaa allowed it to happen knowing its fallout.
On 5 December, before Jayalalithaa’s death was announced, TNM reported how Sasikala’s youngest brother, V Dhivaharan, was meeting MLAs and important leaders to keep the party consolidated. The immediate goal then was not to make Sasikala the CM, but to ensure that they controlled what happened next, and ensure that there was no dissent.
After the news of Jayalalithaa’s death was made public, OPS was sworn in as the CM in the middle of the night. He was the night-watchman, the man who would keep the seat guarded for Chinnamma.
The next day, during Jayalalithaa’s final journey, Sasikala ensured that the world was left with no doubt as to who was closest to her – Sasikala and her family. This was important, and a lesson learned from MGR’s funeral, when Jayalalithaa and MGR’s wife Janaki jostled for space near his body. Till the former CM’s very end, Sasikala was with her. She laid her to rest at Marina beach. The optics were spectacular.
Sasikala’s Family Penetrates Through Posititions of Power
The AIADMK HQ started sending out press releases by the hour, showing how leaders and people from across the state were coming in to meet Sasikala.
On 10 December, less than a week after Jayalalithaa had died, Jaya TV beamed visuals of senior party leaders begging and pleading Sasikala to take over the party. Visuals of party functionaries appealing to “Chinnamma” with folded hands at the portico of Veda Nilayam. (Jaya TV is owned and operated by members of the Sasikala family.)
Over the next three weeks, several calls for Sasikala to become the General Secretary emerged. On 29 December, in a brilliantly stage-managed event, the party’s General Council appointed Sasikala as the GS, amidst considerable ambiguity over its legality.
On 31 December, Sasikala visited the party headquarters to take over as the general secretary, and made an emotional speech.
The 15-minute speech was to do the following – assert Sasikala’s loyalty to Amma and the AIADMK; gain sympathy from party workers with displays of emotion; restate the fact that she had been a long-term aide of Jayalalithaa; reaffirm the AIADMK government’s belief in welfarism; and hint that her role as the party chief is now an obligation and duty, not ambition.
It was an unambiguous declaration that Sasikala was here to lead the party forever, as seen in her statement that the rest of her life will be dedicated to the party. It was also a clarification that, after the 100 days she was ousted from the party in 2012, she returned with regret and stronger loyalty to Amma. She also clarified, that Amma received the best medical treatment, and that her death was a sudden event.
Waiting for the Right Time
All through January, there were rumours of Sasikala’s imminent takeover, but also that OPS was not entirely willing to step down, and that the BJP and Centre would not be happy with her as the CM. The jallikattu protests stormed through the state. Time wasn’t ripe for her to make the move.
On 3 February, Sasikala appointed several key leaders of the party to important party posts. This was seen as an attempt to assuage any dissent within the party.
Later that day, the CM’s office asked senior bureaucrats of the Jaya regime – Sheela Balakrishnan and KN Venkataramanan – to vacate their offices as advisers to the CMO. At this point, it was becoming clear that Sasikala will make the move soon, and it happened on 5 February – exactly two months after Jayalalithaa died.
As pointed out earlier, having Sasikala as the CM and AIADMK chief could be fraught with dangers to TN’s democracy, simply because she has become the most influential and powerful person in the state without winning people’s confidence. But then, she has 4.5 years to do that, and her vow to stick to Amma’s welfarism could make it easy for her.
The next test for her would be to win a seat at the TN Assembly within six months, as is required by law. And going by her recent record of political manoeuvring, an electoral victory might not be too difficult.
(This story was originally published in The News Minute.)
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