Though V K Sasikala, the most trusted lieutenant of late AIADMK supremo and former Tamil Nadu chief minister, J Jayalalithaa, has been barred from contesting election for six years (because of her four years conviction), the top leaders of the ruling party such as CM E Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam, are spending sleepless nights ever since her arrival to Chennai on February 8 night after 23 hours long arduous road journey from Bangalore.
Sasikala was released from prison in Bangalore on January 27 after the completion of four-year jail-term. She was convicted by the Supreme Court in Rs 66 crore disproportionate assets case on February 14, 2017. After her release she was referred to Victoria Memorial Hospital in Bangalore for the COVID-19 related treatment and discharged on January 31. However, she was asked by doctors not to leave the city for a week.
Now that she is in Chennai the AIADMK leaders have reasons to be worried as all through the Karnataka border to the Tamil Nadu capital her cavalcade evoked tumultuous response. Independent political observers are surprised over the turn-out in north Tamil Nadu, through where her car-cade passed and where the AIADMK support-base is somewhat weak than in central and southern part of the state. The DMK performed better in north Tamil Nadu in the 2016 Assembly election.
As she has disclosed her plan to plunge into active politics the AIADMK leadership is a bit jittery as the election is just round the corner.
Sasikala, 66, along with her nephew T T V Dhinakaran were expelled from the AIADMK in September 2017 by the General Council of the party under the leadership of chief minister E Palaniswami and his deputy and newly formed friend O Panneerselvam after the two leaders merged their respective factions. This development took place just nine months after the death of the then chief minister Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016.
O Panneerselvam became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu on December 5, 2016 itself. It needs to be mentioned that when Jayalalithaa, as the chief minister, was barred from her post by the Supreme Court in 2001 she made Panneerselvam as the stop-gap chief minister. Five months later she got legal clearance and returned to become the chief minister.
However, in 2014 when Jayalalithaa was jailed she again trusted the responsibility of chief minister to Panneerselvam. This time he served for eight months before the High Court overturned the trial court ruling. Jayalalithaa was back as CM after eight months in jail.
When Panneerselvam succeeded Jayalalithaa immediately after her death a crisis emerged in the party. Sasikala, who was then supervising the last rites of Jayalalithaa was then considered by many as the natural heir. She was upset by Panneerselvam’s move. But on February 14, 2017 the Supreme Court convicted her. As the powerful general secretary of the AIADMK she on the same day expelled Panneerselvam.
Her favourite, Palaniswami, was elected as the leader of AIADMK legislative party. The latter took oath as the chief minister on February 16.
Six months later both the factions led by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam merged. The latter was inducted as the Deputy CM. Sasikala, who was now in jail was expelled from the party along-with her nephew Dhinakaran.
Dhinakaran floated Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam in March 2018 and became its general secretary. He continued to claim that his party is the original AIADMK. He has reason to make such a claim as he won the R K Nagar Assembly by-poll in December 2017 by over forty thousand votes. This was the seat represented by Jayalalithaa till her death.
His aunt Sasikala, who felt cheated by Palaniswami, will now leave no stone unturned to teach him as well as Panneerselvam a lesson.
Three days after her release BJP President J P Nadda said in Madurai on January 30 that his party would fight the Assembly election in alliance with AIADMK. But the AIADMK-BJP alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election had failed miserably winning just one of the 39 seats.
In the personality-centred politics of Tamil Nadu, Sasikala—though barred from contesting election till 2027—seems to have the potential to further damage the prospect of the present AIADMK leadership. In that case the happiest person would be DMK’s M K Stalin, the son of former CM Karunanidhi.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.