For a woman in the public eye since the age of 16 and in politics for 34 years, not much is known about Jayalalithaa’s family, except that her grandparents hailed from Srirangam and moved to Karnataka. Her brother Jayakumar died in the 1990s and no one knows of any relative having access to her.
It is this absence of familial care that possibly led to her placing complete faith in Ms. Sasikala, who in her own words, “took my mother’s place”. Their bond was so strong that she turned defensive in the face of criticism from any quarter, and anyone who dared to question Ms. Sasikala’s authority was promptly shown his place by ‘Amma’. In due course, Ms. Sasikala earned the moniker ‘Chinna Amma’.
There are various versions as to how Ms. Sasikala, the wife of M. Natarajan, a former employee of the State government’s Directorate of Information and Public Relations, met Jayalalithaa in 1984. Incidentally, the couple’s marriage was presided over by DMK leader M. Karunanidhi. Some accounts claim she was sent by MGR to spy on Jayalalithaa. In fact, ‘Salem’ Kannan, former MP who drew MGR’s ire for floating the ‘Jayalalithaa Peravai’, once recalled that correspondence between him and Jayalalithaa found their way to MGR, and he suspected Ms. Sasikala’s involvement.
A senior Tamil journalist, who worked for the AIADMK mouthpiece ‘Anna’, said that in the mid-1980s when Jayalalithaa toured the State, Ms. Sasikala got the contract for video coverage of the events as she owned a small video cassette lending library in Mylapore. “Jayalalithaa asked her to ensure that footage of men on tree branches and on rooftops at her public meetings were adequately covered. She was impressed with the coverage and over time they became friends,” he said.
Entry into Poes Garden
With Jayalalithaa not having anyone to manage her household, she banked on Ms. Sasikala for the job. Soon, she and Mr. Natarajan moved into her Poes Garden home. As early as July 1989, reports began to emerge that Jayalalithaa, who had just taken charge as general secretary of the unified AIADMK, was being manipulated by Mr. Natarajan. Jayalalithaa denied it, insisting that Ms. Sasikala was her best friend and “almost like a sister”, and Mr. Natarajan happened to be her husband.
But in June 1990, Jayalalithaa threw Mr. Natarajan out as he sought to “dominate” her, “instead of obeying orders”. Ms. Sasikala chose to remain with her.
In the latter half of 1996, when Jayalalithaa was out of power and faced a string of corruption cases, many demanded that she dissociate herself from Ms. Sasikala. But in an interview to The Hindu, she fiercely defended Ms. Sasikala. Describing her as a surrogate sister, Jayalalithaa said, “I have no father, no mother, no brothers or sisters of my own. There are some other relatives, aunts and uncles and cousins but they are all fully involved with their own lives and their own careers. They are simply not prepared to give up everything and come here and live with me and take care of me and my household. That is what she was doing. She did not interfere in party affairs or the government.”
In fact, Jayalalithaa believed Ms. Sasikala was misunderstood and maligned merely because she was associated with her. Though she fell out with Ms. Sasikala on two occasions, the latter managed to return and stick like a magnet to the iron lady till the end.