By Kalyani Shankar
Will V.K. Sasilala, a one-time close confident of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa make a comeback? It is a question mark as politics is changing fast in the state. ‘Chinnamma ‘as she was known, has had her ups and downs in the past four decades. She enjoyed power as the shadow of Jayalalithaa but she never did understand that she was only the shadow, not Jayalalithaa. She took over the party and almost became Jaya’s successor in 2017 but the BJP spoiled her plans and she went instead to Pappana Agraharam jail in Karnataka for four years.
In 2017, on a sunny February morning, Sasikala stopped at Jayalalithaa’s grave before going to Bangalore jail and thumped the memorial platform three times with her palm vowing to avenge her enemies. Now after her release and a month after the AIADMK lost power in the Tamil Nadu polls, she is all set to return to active politics. In a recent alleged phone conversation with one of the party cadres, Sasikala confirms her plans to take the political plunge.
She has been sending confusing signals about her future. Significantly 2021 is not 2017. Much has changed in the past four years. Her two handpicked leaders – the former chief ministers O. Panneerselvam (OPS) and E. Palaniswamy (EPS) have captured the party where they do not want her to return. Sasikala had been involved in separate power tussles with both leaders earlier.
The intensifying feud between EPS and OPS even after the defeat as well as the come-back plans of Sasikala. is threatening to break the party again. Both had flexed their muscles to become the leader of the opposition. Finally, Palaniswami won the fight, as most of the legislators were from the western region, where he had strong support. Sasikala is eager to avenge this setback as the equations have altered between OPS and EPS since the recent electoral debacle.
Though she cannot contest until 2027, there is no legal ban to head a party. It is a mystery why Sasikala announced her retirement from politics in March and why she wants to come back now. The timing she has chosen to test the political waters is also significant for the AIADMK is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of power. The cadres, especially the EPS backers, are opposed to her emerging again as a power center in the party. EPS is one of the big hurdles for her return to the AIADMK because he senses threat to his own position in the party.
The latest is two viral audio clips of a phone conversation between her and one of the party men recently. In the leaked audio clip she says “we will for sure streamline the party…certainly, I will come.” She said “You don’t worry at all. Sure. We will resolve all the problems in the party. I will come. I will definitely come. You take care and be safe.” For now, she has sent enough signals to her supporters that she is ready and waiting.
Will Sasikala achieve her ambition? Though age is against her, those who know her believe she will not throw in the towel easily and will weigh her options to see how she can stage a comeback.
The second hurdle is her own corrupt image. Her first effort to float an outfit AMMK through her nephew TTV Dhinakaran became a flop in the recent Assembly polls, though initially, he won the R.K. Nagar bypolls in 2017. Now she wants to find a place for herself in politics.
Thirdly, though she has served her jail sentence there are other cases in the courts. She is particularly troubled by a case involving the purchase of properties with demonetized currency. With a central government and the state government hostile to her.she is skating on thin ice.
Fourthly, according to insiders, Sasikala is in no hurry as her target is the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. By that time she wants to get back in the good books of the BJP to establish herself and her nephew as players using her money power. She wants to do this either by dividing the AIADMK or expanding her nephew’s AMMK. Being Jayalalithaa’s shadow in Tamil Nadu politics since the eighties Sasikala has been a backroom player and knows the ins and out of Dravidian politics. She and her family were called the “Mannargudi mafia” who ruled during Jaya’s regime.
Chinnamma’s future hangs in balance for now. It depends on many factors. When one week in politics is said to belong, another three years is too long. One cannot predict what will happen by then. (IPA Service)