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  Opinion   Oped  28 Dec 2016  2016 looking back: Sasikala—Emerging from Jaya’s shadow

2016 looking back: Sasikala—Emerging from Jaya’s shadow

The writer is a senior journalist who reported from Tamil Nadu for several decades
Published : Dec 28, 2016, 1:00 am IST
Updated : Dec 28, 2016, 6:33 am IST

Ms Natarajan has so far kept her own counsel and not revealed what her plans are.

It is presumptuous to assume that Ms Natarajan may have inherited her friend’s political or administrative acumen merely because she was with Jaya all through.
 It is presumptuous to assume that Ms Natarajan may have inherited her friend’s political or administrative acumen merely because she was with Jaya all through.

Since the passing of four-time Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK general secretary J. Jayalalithaa, all eyes are on her close aide of over 30 years Sasikala Natarajan. Will she take over the leadership of the party and later the reins of the government?

There has been an orchestrated attempt in the past two weeks to get her to lead the party and also a few appeals by ministers to become chief minister even as a duly elected chief minister is performing his constitutional duties. But Ms Natarajan has so far kept her own counsel and not revealed what her plans are.

It is presumptuous to assume that Ms Natarajan may have inherited her friend’s political or administrative acumen merely because she was with Jaya all through. She kept away from the limelight even while accompanying Jaya on numerous campaign tours. Jaya would be seated in the front in the propaganda van and Sasi would be behind her, a shadowy figure.

There was a silent understanding between the two. Jaya ran the government and Sasi took care of the party, of course, under her guidance or in her name. She screened all visitors, officials and partymen. She systematically sidelined the old guard of the AIADMK over the years and probably had a say in key appointments too. So much so, partymen resented Ms Natarajan as much as they feared her.

Hence there is nothing spontaneous about the chorus of demand that she should take over as general secretary. Long used to hero-worshipping, the AIADMK men will kowtow to Sasi or anybody else for that matter so long as it serves their interests — ensuring this government lasts its full term till 2021.

They bowed to Jaya because she was a vote-getter and she also allowed her partymen to get rich by means fair and foul. The same thing cannot be said about

Ms Natarajan. She has never been the public face of the AIADMK. Her acceptance by the people is untested. And she can no longer function as an extra-constitutional authority as the DMK has a powerful presence in the Assembly and even a whiff of a corrupt deal will lead to an uproar.

One point in favour of Ms Natarajan is that she looked after Jayalalithaa. Of course, her proximity to Jaya enriched her. And she made no bones about it. The assets of Sasi are listed in the Cunha judgment in the wealth case, a story of her rise from a humble CD seller to a billionairess. Leave alone vast estates, she owns Jaya TV and Namadhu MGR. One is a propaganda tool and the other is the AIADMK mouthpiece.

Amid all the reports of palace manoeuvres, it is believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, through Union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, ensured the smooth transfer of power to Jaya’s trusted deputy O. Panneerselvam, who after all had been substitute CM twice on Jaya’s call. The Centre may be cautioning Sasi against political overreach as illustrated by the unprecedented income-tax raid on chief secretary P. Rama Mohana Rao, a personal favourite of Sasi.

Those who support Ms Natarajan say she was close to Jaya like Jaya was close to MGR. That comparison is odious. MGR made Jaya an MP and party propaganda secretary though he never named her his successor. But people accepted her as MGR’s heir. The 1989 Assembly results when the AIADMK was split into two tell the story of Jaya’s electoral clout.

On the other hand, Jaya never entrusted Ms Natarajan with any responsibility in the party. When she got wind of a plot, allegedly by Ms Natarajan to capture the party in the event of her conviction in the wealth case, Jaya sent Sasi and her clan out of the Poes Garden house. She relented only after Ms Natarajan protested that she was unaware of the plot and that she had no political ambition.

From there on, Ms Natarajan stuck to her role as personal aide though she was allegedly brazen enough to acquire a multiplex in Chennai. Never mind, the Karnataka government’s appeal against the two’s acquittal in the wealth case is awaiting judgment before the Supreme Court. The case against Jaya will now abate. But the threat to Sasi remains. If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s conviction of her as a co-accused, she will land in jail. That will be Sasi’s main worry. She has neither the sagacity nor the kind of connections Jaya had to get acquittal in court cases.

Senior AIADMK leader and state minister Ma Foi K. Pandiarajan has said there is nothing wrong in Ms Natarajan taking over as party general secretary, but she should not replace Mr Panneerselvam, who is not an interim, but a full-fledged chief minister now.

He is right. Within days of settling in office, Mr Panneerselvam has shown he has a mind of his own. When Vardah struck, he handled the crisis from the secretariat and later flew to New Delhi and met Mr Modi and pleaded for immediate relief. In the wake of the I-T raid, he promptly replaced Mr Rao and appointed Girija Vaidyanathan as the new chief secretary.

The AIADMK general council will meet on January 29 and the speeches made by the new “Chinnamma” converts will indicate whether Ms Natarajan will openly take the political plunge. If she does, as widely expected, the world would be waiting to hear her first words spoken in public.

Tags: j. jayalalithaa, sasikala natarajan, aiadmk, o panneerselvam