CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and several other senior minsters today visited the Poes Garden residence in Chennai of J Jayalalithaa to meet her long-time companion Sasikala Natarajan, further fuelling speculation about a role for her in the ruling AIADMK.
Ms Natarajan holds no official position in the party or the government, but she has been at the centre of political activity ever since Ms Jayalalithaa, the party’s general secretary for 27 years, had a cardiac arrest on Sunday and died the next day. Ms Natarajan, a former video store owner who lived for years at the palatial Poes Garden bungalow with Ms Jayalalithaa, placed herself prominently near her body as it lay in state on Tuesday and performed the last rites.
While O Panneerselvam was swiftly sworn in as chief minister hours after Chennai’s Apollo Hospital announced the death of Ms Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK has to find a replacement for her as party chief and senior leaders do not deny that Ms Sasikala could be a front-runner. Increasingly it is clear that she will at least play a key role in decision-making.
“Sasikala is the backbone of Poes Garden,” AIADMK spokesperson Dr V Maitreyan told NDTV, signalling that she has the party’s backing. Dr Maitreyan denied NDTV’s exclusive report on how Ms Natarajan, according to two party sources including a minister, had allegedly begun calling the shots as Ms Jayalalithaa breathed her last, ensuring that Mr Panneerselvam was chosen chief minister.
Mr Panneerselvam, who belongs to the same community as Sasikala Natarajan, had stood in as chief minister for Ms Jayayalalithaa twice before when she had to step down because of corruption cases and is seen as a non-controversial choice. But critics allege that he could be remote-controlled by Ms Natarajan, with some even wagering that his third term as chief minister too is an interim role as the party rewires itself for a post-Jayalalithaa world.
For one it has to decide whether to call a meeting of the general council of the party for the election of a new chief. For years the party had no need for such meetings; so complete was Ms Jayalalithaa’s control that no one questioned her, leave alone challenged her leadership.