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  India   Politics  12 Dec 2016  ‘Party boss’ Sasikala Natarajan finds total acceptance

‘Party boss’ Sasikala Natarajan finds total acceptance

Published : Dec 12, 2016, 2:20 am IST
Updated : Dec 12, 2016, 3:34 pm IST

OPS knew from day one where power lies and did not delay his demonstration of absolute loyalty to “Chinnamma”.

AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa with her close aide Sasikala Natarajan (Photo: PTI/File)
 AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa with her close aide Sasikala Natarajan (Photo: PTI/File)

Chennai: When Lok Sabha deputy speaker M. Thambidurai put out a statement on Sunday that was sent to all media houses from AIADMK headquarters, it seemed that the final word had been said on the succession issue in the ruling party. Mr Thambidurai had spoken on similar lines on TV on Saturday, hailing Sasikala Natarajan for her sacrifices in protecting “Amma” and caring for her over the last three decades.

The Sunday proclamation, however, sounded like the lost contender was proposing the name of the victor in a succession battle so as to not just drive away clouds of suspicion, but to also ensure that in the emerging political plot, he got a decent chair to sit on.

Even before the doctors signed J. Jayalalithaa’s death certificate in the Apollo Hospital late night December 5, reports trickled in that Delhi wanted Mr Thambidurai to succeed her as the chief minister. His long years in the national capital had earned the crafty Gounder many influential friends in the national parties.

Sources say that Ms Sasikala and family said a firm “no” and pushed through the case of O. Panneerselvam. It is said that Ms Sasikala told AIADMK ministers at a hurriedly summoned session at the Apollo to back OPS as he had experience being the CM, that too as Amma’s choice in crisis situations. After Mr Thambidurai’s Delhi gambit failed, he proclaimed loyalty for “Chinnamma”.

OPS knew from day one where power lies and did not delay his demonstration of absolute loyalty to “Chinnamma”. Soon the entire Cabinet rallied behind OPS to proclaim loyalty to her. When TV screens repeatedly showed ministers falling at her feet after paying their respect to Jayalalithaa’s portrait in Poes Garden, it became doubly clear who would rule the post-Jaya dispensation — in the party as well as the government —with a firm grip, even if from the back seat.

It’s not an easy task achieving such support to take charge in male-dominated Dravidian politics. But then, Jayalalithaa did make things easy for “Chinnamma” by keeping the men in her party on their knees, virtually.

Having achieved almost universal support to take over as the AIADMK general secretary, it is now only a matter of time before Ms Sasikala convenes the general council and executive to herself officially chosen as the party chief, unanimously. That would be a first for the AIADMK. Both MGR and Jayalalithaa as CMs also held the post of party general secretary to ensure absolute control.

It may not be difficult for Ms Sasikala to remote-control the government while holding the formal title as party chief. She did everything, well almost everything, for Jayalalithaa — from the mundane things like the medicines she must take and the food she liked, to handling party seniors and top bureaucrats, besides assisting in evolving strategies in dealing with political rivals in the state and the powers in Delhi.

There is only one problem facing Ms Sasikala. The Supreme Court had on June 7 reserved judgment in the appeals filed by the Karnataka government against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa in the decades-old disproportionate assets case. Ms Sasikala, along with sister-in-law J. Elavarasi and nephew V.N. Sudhakaran, are co-accused in this case. Should the court confirm the acquittal, there is no stopping Ms Sasikala from emerging very powerful in TN politics.

True, she does not have the charisma of Jayalalithaa, but she is trying astutely to create a pro-people image. Her decision to throw open the doors of Poes Garden to the public to pay their respects to the large portrait of Jayalalitha she had placed in the portico, was a masterstroke. Photographs of her holding the hands of the weeping women in the queue before the late CM’s portrait went viral, as did TV visuals of party seniors pleading with her to become the general secretary while she heard them teary-eyed.

Whatever happens, it’s certain that Poes Garden will remain the venue of the next big chapter in Tamil Nadu politics.

Tags: lok sabha, j. jayalalithaa, apollo hospitals
Location: India, Tamil Nadu, Chennai (Madras)