Like her friend and soul-sister J Jayalalithaa, V K Sasikala has this incomprehensible ability to bounce back from an adversity. Even when Jayalalithaa herself had twice banished her from her household, warning cadres against any kind of association with Sasikala, Chinnama (junior mother) had quietly managed to get back into Jayalalithaa’s good books and stay there till her death on December 5.
The perseverance may have just begun to pay off.
After over three decades of being Jayalalithaa’s friend and soul-sister, Sasikala is now emerging out of the shadows of Jayalalithaa to become a leader in her own right. This was the moment that Sasikala was perhaps waiting for, through the three decades of her roller-coaster friendship with Jayalalithaa.
The friendship between Sasikala and Jayalalithaa was not as rosy as is being painted out to be.
But at least twice in their three-decade long friendship, Jayalalithaa had publicly renounced Sasikala and accused her family of conspiring against her
Sasikala first met Jayalalithaa in 1984 as proprietor of a video company with a proposal to record all her public meetings. Sasikala began visiting Poes Garden at the pretext of handing over cassettes and the friendship grew. Soon enough Sasikala moved in with Jayalalithaa to take care of all her personal affairs. But at least twice in their three-decade long friendship, Jayalalithaa had publicly renounced Sasikala and accused her family of conspiring against her. Till her death in December 2016, Jayalalithaa kept Sasikala’s family at bay.
Even when apologising to Jayalalithaa in 2011 for the misdeeds of her family, Sasikala wrote saying she would not aspire for any political post or favor with ‘Amma.’ “All I want to be is her sister and serve her,” she had said. But Sasikala perhaps knew she just has to wait long enough.
“She took all the right decisions ever since she met Jayalalithaa. Even if it was placing Jayalalithaa over her family” says journalist Durai Karuna who has covered AIADMK in Tamil Nadu for three decades. “I am not surprised that almost the entire party was at Poes Garden asking Sasikala to take over after Jayalalithaa’s death”, he says.
For many leaders accustomed to receiving orders from Sasikala, there was no one else who could lead them after ‘Amma’
Jayalalithaa might not have named Sasikala successor, she was not even given any party post when Jayalalithaa was around. Yet, almost the entire party queued up at Poes Garden, asking Sasikala to step into her shoes. This happened primarily because they thought "no one else can hold the party together." For many leaders accustomed to receiving orders from Sasikala, there was no one else who could lead them after ‘Amma’.
“O Paneerselvam is one among us. Yes, Amma chose him to replace her as chief minister but it was a very temporary arrangement and he was only standing in for Amma. He could never become her,” says a senior AIADMK leader from Sasikala’s camp.
In what seemed like a well-scripted and well-played out drama, O Paneerselvam’s revolt against Sasikala, two days after he put in his resignation to pave for her to take over as the chief minister, was an unexpected anti-climax. This revolt threatens to put an end to her yet to be launched political career but Sasikala is bracing herself for a long fight. “Even if she goes down, she won’t without a fight”, says a political observer.
So what are the challenges that Sasikala is facing now?
The overwhelming public sentiment against Sasikala is largely due to the alleged influence of her family over the AIADMK and the family’s widespread corruption
Paneerselvam’s revolt is a thorn in her flesh she could well do without. Despite not having numbers on his side, Paneerselvam was perhaps cashing in on the overwhelming public sentiment against Sasikala. She would perhaps eventually take over as the chief minister as, at the moment, the numbers are on her side.
But even Sasikala’s supporters say that she will have to work really hard to earn the public acceptance. “We are supporting Sasikala because we want to be loyal to Amma and the two leaves symbol. But Sasikala has to somehow change the public perception of her being corrupt. She has to keep her family out like Amma did. She met the governor along with her nephew T T V Dinakaran and obviously, it doesn’t go well with the cadres. We hope she will do a course correction soon”, says the AIADMK leader.
That would be another big challenge for Sasikala if she intends to stay the political course. The overwhelming public sentiment against Sasikala is largely due to the alleged influence of her family over the AIADMK and the family’s widespread corruption. So much so that the family has come to be referred as Mannargudi mafia by commoners.
The biggest challenge, however, and one that effectively puts a spoke on Sasikala's plans is the Disproportionate Assets case, the judgment of which will be delivered by the Supreme Court anytime now. If Sasikala is convicted in the case, she could neither become an MLA nor stay a chief minister. Sources say Governor Vidya Sagar Rao has put his decision to invite Sasikala to form the government on hold, pending the Supreme Court judgment.
IF the judgment is adverse, it would be an adversity that Sasikala might find real tough to overcome.