Sasikala: From prima donna to persona non grata

Sasikala’s one-time admirers have now turned bitter foes

September 13, 2017 12:27 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:50 pm IST - CHENNAI

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 5/02/2017: AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala greets Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and other ministers at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on February 5, 2017. 
Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 5/02/2017: AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala greets Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and other ministers at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on February 5, 2017. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Soon after Jayalalithaa’s death , Sasikala, her close aide of over 30 years, was hailed as Chinnamma (mother’s younger sister) by leaders of the AIADMK including Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his predecessor O. Panneerselvam. Heaping praises on her “political virtues”, they pleaded with her to lead the party and got the general council to anoint her as interim general secretary though she suffered disqualification given the fact that she was not a primary member of the party for five continuous years. But on Tuesday, the same leaders moved a resolution to oust her from party leadership without assigning any reason, ending Sasikala’s stranglehold on the AIADMK.

Sasikala, who stood by Jayalalithaa through thick and thin, from the time the latter was pushed out of the cortege carrying MGR’s coffin in 1987, had, over the years, emerged as the first point of contact for party men in Poes Garden. Eventually, she managed to influence the selection of candidates for elections and promote those identified by her extended family members. Despite being expelled twice from the Poes Garden household, she was the only point of contact for even ministers during Jayalalithaa’s long hospitalisation.

When Jayalalithaa died, she ensured a smooth transition in government by getting Mr. Panneerselvam and his cabinet sworn in the same night. However, soon, political ambition caught up with her and turned to be her undoing as Mr. Panneerselvam rebelled against her after resigning as Chief Minister and proposing her name as the leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party.

‘Aimed at appeasing BJP’

However, Sasikala braved the rebellion and held her flock together by individually talking to MLAs confined at the Golden Bay Resort at Koovathur . Subsequently, she managed to get Mr. Palaniswami elected as the head of the new government even as she went to jail. To retain her grip on the party, she also appointed T.T.V. Dhinakaran as the deputy general secretary of the party.

Does the latest development signal the end of the Sasikala stranglehold? “This is more of an act of appeasement [of the BJP]. Everyone in the party wants to retain a certain element of the party for themselves,” said Ramu Manivannan, Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration in the University of Madras.

“We should check as to how many of the General Council members turned up for the meeting and how many of them supported the resolutions. The reactions of the remaining have to be observed.”

Party leader R. Vaithilingam said, “We have made our stand clear through the resolutions passed in the General Council meeting. There would not be any influence of Sasikala and her family in both the party and the government.”

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