CHENNAI: The day after it became clear that VK Sasikala will be Tamil Nadu’s next Chief Minister, the Supreme Court said that it is ready to decide – most likely by next week – on whether the 61-year-old is guilty of conspiring with J Jayalalithaa to accumulate vast amounts of wealth far exceeding their known sources of income in the early 90s.
Ms Jayalalithaa, popularly referred to as “Amma”, died while she was head of the Tamil Nadu government in December. Yesterday, her party, the AIADMK, decided that her closest aide, Ms Sasikala, will take over as Chief Minister. In doing so, she will replace O Panneerselvam, who has recurringly filled in for Chief Minister while the party made long-term arrangements for its political leadership.
The corruption case against Ms Sasikala is among a cluster of problems that she confronts in the transfer to power including an open challenge from Deepa Jayakumar, Ms Jayalalithaa’s niece, who says she should be considered the true inheritor of Ms Jayalalithaa’s political legacy.
But during her life, it was Ms Sasikala who was the closest aide of Ms Jayalalithaa, accompanying the powerful politician in the home they shared in Poes Garden, at business meetings, and on holidays to a tea estate in the mountain range of the Nilgiris. When Ms Jayalalithaa was hospitalised in September, complaining of dehydration, it was Ms Sasikala who took crucial decisions with doctors on the course of her treatment. And when she died, Ms Sasikala stood next to her body at a large public memorial, accepting condolences from VVIPs including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was seen patting her head.
In 2014, Ms Jayalalithaa and Ms Sasikala were arrested and imprisoned in a jail in Bengaluru. The then Chief Minister was accused of misusing an earlier term to illicitly accrue expensive real estate, cash, gold, valuable jewelry and other assets. Ms Sasikala was accused of aiding the corruption.
But the charges did not stick, and after their acquittal, Ms Jayalalithaa returned to office, with Mr Paneerselvam’s stint as place-holder ending. The Karnataka government then challenged the acquittal in the Supreme Court, where judges today were nudged about the delay in the case. In response, they said a decision will be shared next week.
Lakhs of supporters, whose devotion to Ms Jayalalithaa bordered on religious, stood in the streets as her hearse travelled in December to Chennai’s Marina Beach where she was buried next to MG Ramachandran, the actor-turned-politician who founded their party. With Ms Sasikala’s close supervision, Mr Panneerselvam, who carried Ms Jayalalithaa’s photo in his pocket every day, took over as Chief Minister within hours. Then, the party chose to appoint Ms Sasikala its General Secretary – a post that had been held by Ms Jayalalithaa for nearly two decades. Yesterday, it unanimously agreed that Ms Sasikala, who has never served as party official or run for election, will take over as Chief Minister.