CHENNAI: VK Sasikala this evening drove up to a prison in Bengaluru where she has been sentenced to four years in prison for corruption in a case that involves J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister who died in December and was the leader of Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the AIADMK. Wearing a brown sari, the 61-year-old left Chennai in the morning after stopping to pay tribute at Ms Jayalalithaa’s memorial, where, her party said, she took “a mighty vow” to triumph over the “conspiracy and back-stabbing” that has led the outfit to break into two unequal factions.
She is now a prisoner at the same jail where Ms Jayalalithaa and she were kept for about three weeks in 2014 when they were first convicted for corruption. Sources said Ms Sasikala has asked for a cell that comes with a table and a fan, a couple of non-vegetarian meals every week, a space to meditate, and guaranteed round-the-clock medical assistance if sought.
Last evening, Ms Sasikala broke down as she addressed about 120 legislators at a resort in Chennai which, as of about five days ago, has turned into a party outpost. “They can imprison me, but they cannot imprison my care for you,” she told them, adding, “wherever I am, I will be with the party.”
Ms Sasikala, till last morning, was plotting to be Chief Minister, but the Supreme Court nullified those plans by stating that in the early 90s, during Ms Jayalalithaa’s first term in office, the women conspired on a get-rich-quick scheme that included forcing owners of real estate to sell them land at big discounts. Along with Ms Sasikala, her nephew Sudhakaran (adopted by Ms Jayalalithaa only to be disowned a year later) and sister-in-law Ilavarasi, who drove to Bengaluru with her today, were also convicted.
At Ms Jayalalithaa’s funeral, however, her husband, controversial entrepreneur M Natarajan, was conspicuous in the crowd. Party insiders were astounded, but on record, the AIADMK said a grief-stricken Sasikala, who performed her mentor’s last rites, needed all the support she could get.
Even before the funeral, Ms Sasikala had chosen O Panneerselam to take over as Chief Minister. He had stood in for Ms Jayaalithaa while she was alive, including during her jailing in 2014. He was known for his abject devotion which manifested in traits like refusing, as a show of deference, to occupy her office or spot in the legislature when he was filling in.
With him running the government, the party placed Ms Sasikala firmly at its centre, appointing her General Secretary, which was Ms Jayalalithaa’s title for nearly 20 years. Then, the AIADMK decided that just like her predecessor, Ms Sasikala should twin as Chief Minister. Mr Panneerselvam wrote a letter of resignation to Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and was asked to – once again – fill in as Chief Minister till Ms Sasikala went through the formalities of taking charge.
A rush of disruptors, however, emerged suddenly. The Supreme Court said it was ready to rule on her case; public opinion surged against Ms Sasikala’s ascension because of her political inexperience and her family’s allegedly dodgy business dealings; Mr Panneerselvam strode away from Ms Jayalalithaa’s shore-side memorial to state he wanted to keep the gig.
Ms Sasikala retaliated by packing about 120 state legislators or MLAs to the resort where they remain largely sequestered, despite stating on cue for cameras that their stay is voluntary. Mr Panneerselvam began sourcing support, and now has 11 MLAs on his team.
As Ms Sasikala starts her jail sentence, her party awaits the Governor’s decision on whether the man she has chosen as proxy -Mr Palanisamy- will be asked to take oath and then a trust vote. Both he and Mr Panneerselvam have been asked to meet the Governor tonight. Ms Sasikala, in Bengaluru, will start her term as Prisoner number 9234.