Tamil Nadu

From video rental shop to Fort St. George

Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam with Jayalalithaa and Sasikala at the Raj Bhavan after the swearing-in ceremony on September 21, 2001.Sasikala had remained Jayalalithaa’s all-weather friend and the latter had backed her despite numerous allegations.   | Photo Credit: S_MAHINSHA

The emergence of V.K. Sasikala as a key player in Dravidian politics and Tamil Nadu’s administration has been made possible by her patient handling of her friendship with a mercurial Jayalalithaa over an extended period of time, besides backroom manoeuvring.

Ms. Sasikala was born in a hamlet named Thiruthuraipoondi in the composite Thanjavur district in 1957. The turning point in her life came when she married M. Natarajan, then an official with the State Department of Information and Public Relations, in 1973. Their wedding was presided over by then Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi.

Mr. Natarajan, known to be politically inclined, encouraged his wife to open Vinod Video Vision, a video cassette rental and video recording shop, in Luz Corner in Mylapore, Chennai, in the early 1980s when video cassettes, chiefly those that featured movies, were all the rage. Ms. Sasikala, who claims to be the first woman videographer in the State, had in a rare interview spoken about her expansion plans including offering outdoor video shoots for political parties and tourists, who at that time were exposed only to still photography.

This skill she used to the hilt when Mr. Natarajan, through his IAS officer friend V.S. Chandralekha, in 1984 got her a contract to videograph Jayalalithaa’s political meetings when she was the AIADMK propaganda secretary.

Jayalalithaa was impressed with her video shoots, and their “friendship gradually developed”. Three years later, after M.G. Ramachandran’s death, when Jayalalithaa was going through a “traumatic phase” and had no one at home to help her, (in Jayalalithaa’s own words), “Ms. Sasikala and Mr. Natarajan offered to help. So, I accepted their help in good faith. They both came to [Poes Garden] to live here.”

Within a year, Jayalalithaa’s supporters began alleging that the couple was interfering in political affairs. While Jayalalithaa expelled Mr. Natarajan from her household, she fiercely defended Ms. Sasikala, who had survived a car accident while travelling with Jayalalithaa in 1990.

‘Punished for loyalty’

After Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time in 1991, there were strong accusations that Ms. Sasikala and her relatives were functioning as extra-constitutional authorities. Jayalalithaa paid no heed to these and even conducted a mega- wedding for V.N. Sudhagaran, Ms. Sasikala’s nephew. Controversies relating to the extravagant wedding were thought to have contributed to her losing the election in 1996. Ms. Sasikala was in 1996 arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for alleged violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. She and Jayalalithaa also faced multiple corruption charges and many AIADMK functionaries began to urge their leader to sever her relationship with Ms. Sasikala.

However, Jayalalithaa insisted that Ms. Sasikala was a much misunderstood and maligned person who was being targeted for being loyal to her. Again in her words: “…[T]ime and again somebody says that so and so was running a small video shop and how come today she has so many assets. Why don’t you ask the same question of others. Does it mean that if some one starts in a small way they should never come up in life. Does it mean that because a person had a humble and modest beginning he should never rise above that? If the person became successful later, does it mean that he did so because of corrupt or illegal means.”

Some months later, Jayalalithaa expelled Ms. Sasikala from her household — only to welcome her back subsequently.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2020 7:51:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/From-video-rental-shop-to-Fort-St.-George/article17198966.ece

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