Did BJP Force Sasikala To Choose Between Money and Power?
On 3 March, Jayalalithaa’s former aide Sasikala announced her decision to quit politics – and public life.
In a span of 10 years, the declared assets of TTV Dhinakaran, former AIADMK legislator and current president of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), tripled – from Rs 3.48 crore to Rs 11.19 crore.
From 2007 to 2017, his liabilities, too, multiplied from Rs 36.47 lakh to Rs 5.55 crore, The Quint has gathered from his filed asset declarations.
This is, however, just a fraction of the assets that former All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) General Secretary VK Sasikala’s family owns. Dhinakaran is Sasikala’s nephew.
On 12 February, shortly after Sasikala returned to Chennai after languishing in the Parappana Agrahara Prison for four years in a disproportionate assets case probed by the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax authorities seized Rs 200 crore worth properties of her, her sister-in-law J Ilavarasi, and nephew VN Sudhakaran in Kanchipuram.
In a similar exercise conducted a year ago in 2020, the Benami prohibition wing of the state had seized properties of the trio worth Rs 2,000 crore from across Tamil Nadu.
On 3 March, when Sasikala announced her decision to quit politics and public life, was she stuck between a rock and a hard place, of choosing between her assets and political power?
‘The BJP Way of Settling Disputes’
According to politicians in Tamil Nadu, Sasikala’s decision could be the result of a deal that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forged between the AIADMK and the AMMK, at a cost.
The BJP is in an alliance with the AIADMK. Before Sasikala quit politics, the AIADMK alliance was considering the prospects of the AMMK splitting the votes of Jayalalithaa loyalists. Sasikala was a close aide of the former chief minister and AIADMK supremo who died in 2016.
Though Sasikala became the AIADMK general secretary following Jayalalithaa’s death, she was soon sacked. She founded the AMMK with Dhinakaran in 2017, right before she was arrested and sentenced in the disproportionate assets case.
“From the very beginning of the alliance talks, the BJP had been clear that they do not want the AIADMK to continue their fight with Sasikala. The BJP leadership had clearly communicated to the party that some compromise should be arrived at,” said a political leader in Tamil Nadu, on condition of anonymity.
It is a BJP tactic to threaten leaders who have disproportionate wealth with enforcement cases and related complications, the leader added.
Another AIADMK leader opined, “It is highly likely that the BJP asked Sasikala to choose between her assets and her political power. For such a wealthy family which had amassed assets indiscriminately during Jayalalithaa’s terms as chief minister, safeguarding their funds would have been a priority.”
Sasikala has issued a statement asking all her followers to support the AIADMK in the upcoming election to be held on 6 April.
Now, with Sasikala seemingly out of the political picture, Dhinakaran and the rest of the family could be left at peace to run their operations, sources said. Assets of the family include land and establishments like mills and textile units.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had on several occasions told the media that the AIADMK has not targeted the family over their assets. However, safeguarding wealth does not mean just being left alone to live in luxury.
‘Wealth Means Political Power’
The AMMK would not have a political future if their funds get frozen, the political leader in Tamil Nadu, who was once part of the party’s inner circle, said.
“Without wealth there is no political future because politics is an expensive affair in the state,” he said.
From electioneering to running daily affairs of the party, Dhinakaran will have to tap into his family’s assets for the AMMK. “Now, he has the AMMK and his assets. If he were to merge with the AIADMK, he will still have political clout and his money,” the former aide said.
On 3 March, Dhinakaran had said that he will continue to contest under the AMMK banner. The AIADMK could approach the party for a post-poll alliance if they win from the constituencies they field their candidates in.
In this situation, “safeguarding the assets of the family while securing a tentative political future for them” would have been Sasikala’s aim when she decided to step down. With Sasikala gone, the AIADMK has very little reasons to prevent a tie-up with the AMMK.
The BJP leadership clarified that the party had not asked Sasikala to quit politics. The party, however, welcomes the move to unite AIADMK alliance, a BJP leader said.
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