An association that cost Jayalalithaa dear

Friends since the early 1980s, Jayalalithaa and Sasikala have by and large been all-weather friends. File photo  

Saturday’s verdict confirmed the fears of every well-wisher and loyalist of AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa: that her close association with a family hailing from Mannargudi in central Tamil Nadu would one day jeopardise her political career.

Those familiar with events during Ms. Jayalalithaa’s first tenure as Chief Minister (1991-96) will recall that the main charge against that regime was that V.K. Sasikala was functioning as an “extra-constitutional” power and that her relatives were on a property-buying spree across the State.

Friends since the early 1980s, when Ms. Jayalalithaa was the party’s propaganda secretary, the duo have by and large been all-weather friends. They were seen together at party conferences, public functions and election campaigns. Ms. Sasikala has been a resident of Ms. Jayalalithaa’s home for many years, and during that term, eight of her relatives were also with them. One of Ms. Sasikala’s nephews, V. Bhaskaran, promoted a television channel and another, V.N. Sudhakaran, was declared as Ms. Jayalalithaa’s foster son.

 It was media coverage of Mr. Sudhakaran’s lavish wedding in September 1995 that caused much public revulsion for the way in which wealth was flaunted. Such was the public anger that the AIADMK lost all the 39 Lok Sabha seats and won just four Assembly constituencies in the 1996 general elections.

Short-lived separation

Shortly after the electoral rout, Ms. Jayalalithaa declared that she was formally disassociating herself from Ms. Sasikala and her family. She disowned her foster son too, and announced that she would abjure jewellery for the rest of her life.

The Enforcement Directorate was the first agency to crack down on the activities of Ms. Sasikala. Mr. Bhaskaran was arrested for foreign exchange violations in hiring transponders for his channel. In June 1996, Ms. Sasikala herself was arrested for controversial foreign exchange transactions and she was later detained under COFEPOSA. A third nephew, T.T.V. Dinakaran, was also arrested on similar charges and detained under COFEPOSA.

However, after Ms. Sasikala was released from prison, she and Ms. Jayalalithaa reunited. But Ms. Sasikala’s husband, M. Natarajan, a former state government public relations officer, was anathema to Ms. Jayalalithaa, who believed that Mr. Natarajan had ambitions of leadership.

Despite the reunion, Ms. Jayalalithaa jettisoned the Sasikala family for a second time in December 2011. She expelled Ms Sasikala and a dozen of her family members from the party on the suspicion that Mr. Natarajan and others were plotting to take over the AIADMK. Their expulsion caused great excitement among party cadre who had always thought Ms. Jayalalithaa’s association with the Mannargudi family boded ill for her. However, this separation also lasted only a little over 100 days, as Ms. Jayalalithaa accepted a contrite appeal from her friend to forgive her and take her back as her friend. 

 A large portion of the assets for which Ms. Jayalalithaa was hauled up in courts belonged to businesses and firms floated by Ms. Sasikala and her friends in the early 1990s. The prosecution has now successfully demonstrated that these were shell companies used to launder ill-gotten money and presented as business income to the authorities.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:34:20 PM |

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