CHENNAI: Ahead of being jailed today, VK Sasikala executed precise action to ensure that the controls of her party, the AIADMK, will remain firmly in her clutches. Two nephews, expelled by party matriarch J Jayalalithaa in 2011 were brought back to the party by her; one of them, TTV Dinakaran, was made the party’s No 2 with the title of Deputy General Secretary and was gifted silk shawls. Ms Sasikala retains the most powerful position of General Secretary.
A video cassette seller who also made the occasional promotional film for the AIADMK, Ms Sasikala met Ms Jayalalithaa, who had ended her blockbuster movie star career to enter politics, in the 80s. Their friendship was tested by corruption scandals, and at times, interrupted, but they always returned to each other, with Ms Jayalalithaa describing her aide as the woman who ran her house and provided emotional support in the assertively male world of Tamil Nadu politics.
At the end of 2011, Ms Sasikala, Mr Natarajan and 12 of their relatives were ejected from the AIADMK by Ms Jayalalithaa on charges of conspiring against the party, though it was reportedly their attempt to influence administrative decisions and appointments that were a significant constituent of the large and very public estrangement. Ms Sasikala was asked to move out of Ms Jayalalithaa’s bungalow in Poes Garden in Chennai. To return, months later, she had to pledge no contact with her male relatives including her husband and Mr Dinakaran.
He was given a hero’s welcome today at the resort outside Chennai which has turned into a party precinct amid the AIADMK breaking into two factions. The majority, led by Ms Sasikala, has now chosen her loyalist E Palaniswamy, as its presumptive Chief Minister. A far smaller team of about 11 state legislators is siding with acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who says he doesn’t want to surrender his job and has been expelled by Ms Sasikala.
The legislators who have been staying at the resort for six days to prevent them from defecting to Mr Panneerselvam wrapped Mr Dinakaran in scarves and shawls. Speaking to local channels, he said the legislators would leave the hotel as soon as it is confirmed that Mr Palaniswamy will take a trust vote.
It is in no small measure that Ms Sasikala’s family intertwined with Ms Jayalalithaa. The Supreme Court yesterday found Ms Sasikala guilty of conspiring with Ms Jayalalithaa during the politician’s first term as Chief Minister in the early 90s to illegally build a fortune that included prized real estate. Ms Sasikala’s sister-in-law, Ilavarasi, and her nephew, TTV Sudhakaran, were also found convicted. All three are sentenced to four years in prison.
In 1995, Mr Sudhakaran’s wedding, an uninhibited parade of money, thousands of guests, hundreds of elephants and chefs, and saris and jewelry, turned into a sinkhole for Ms Jayalalithaa, who had adopted him as her foster son. The scale of the arrangements impelled protests and court cases, alleging that Ms Jayalalithaa had abused her office of Chief Minister. She was famously photographed with Ms Sasikala in identical silk saris, laden with gold, including matching waistbands. The politician disowned Mr Sudhkaran a year later, when she was also voted out.
Mr Dinakaran, who has been made the party’s deputy chief, is Mr Sudharakan’s brother. Justifying his return two months after Ms Jayalalithaa’s death, Ms Sasikala said he had “apologised in writing and in person”. The other nephew who’s back in the AIADMK fold is Dr S Venkatesh.
Ms Sasikala’s family, disparagingly dubbed “the Mannargudi mafia” after their hometown, was one of the reasons why public anger surged when the AIADMK revealed it had picked her to replace Mr Panneerselvam as Chief Minister about 10 days ago. Online campaigns like #SasiakalaNotMyCM also ridiculed the positioning of a political novice for the state’s top job.
With Mr Panneerselvam refusing to surrender office, Ms Sasikala has nominated loyalist and minister E Palaniswamy as the AIADMK’S presumptive Chief Minister. It’s now upto Governor C Vidyasagar Rao to decide who should be given the chance to prove a majority in the legislature, when, and how.