POLITICS

It's A No-Brainer Now : Sasikala Will Be The Sonia Gandhi Of Tamil Nadu

There cannot be a better choice than Sasikala. Without such a titular head, the party will implode given its inherent caste and power dynamics.

10/12/2016 6:50 PM IST | Updated 06/02/2017 5:40 PM IST
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In one of her interviews to a national TV channel, Jayalalithaa had once said that she had the TINA (There is no alternative) advantage in the state and that would certainly being her back to power. The same TINA factor seems to be favouring her long term associate and friend Sasikala now.

It's now almost certain that Sasikala will be controlling the AIADMK - most probably as the next general secretary, if caste equations don't come in between (chief minister O Panneerselvam and Sasikala belong to the Thevar community). Although she always had the support of the majority of the MLAs and most of the top brass, there have been speculations that some from the old guard might raise a dissenting voice. However, in what appears to be a calculated move, the same old guard personally met her today and made a pitch for her leadership. Instead of her making the move, they did it for her.

AIADMK's TV channel, Jaya TV, telecast the visuals of the leaders meeting her and pleading with her to head the party. The channels also aired views by various AIADMK leaders supporting the pitch. Most of them had the same line of endorsement - that she was the "Chinnamma" (the nearest translation is "small Amma") who looked after their "Amma" as her soulmate for more than three decades and hence she was the rightful inheritor. Some of the leaders who spoke on Jaya TV said that they were with the group that met Sasikala today and that she was still in tears because of the bereavement.

As media reports said earlier, most of the top brass of the party never had a problem with Sasikala because she had a role in the rise of many of them. Reportedly, she had consulted with five bigwigs of the party before deciding the future course of action on the day Jaya died. In fact, it was with their concurrence that the entire sequence of transfer of power was arranged. Therefore, by making the other group, that could have posed potential dissidence to her leadership, push for her takeover is a strategic ploy. With the bigwigs also falling in line, there's absolutely no opposition to her heading the party exactly the way Sonia Gandhi controlled the Congress while a pliant Manmohan Singh ran the government.

READ: Why The Presence of Sasikala's Husband Natarajan At Jayalalithaa's Funeral Raised Eyebrows

Why The DMK Is Unlikely To Attack Sasikala And AIADMK Immediately

According to the party leaders quoted by Jaya TV, Sasikala hasn't yet expressly given consent and she was still in mourning. However, going by the turn of events since Jaya's passing, it's certain that this line is only for public consumption and today's show of support by leaders is pure optics. The decision has been taken and now the script has to be sequenced appropriately. The party general council has to meet and make the announcement. It doesn't matter if she is called general secretary or something else. She is the new supremo, as the leaders in Dravidian politics are called, of the party.

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Sasikala Natarajan, left standing, a close friend of India's Tamil Nadu state former Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa, wipes her tears next to Jayalalithaa's body wrapped in the national flag and kept for public viewing outside an auditorium in Chennai.

Sasikala and her supporters in AIADMK have been making the right moves since Jaya's passing. While there has been an unmissable attempt to mobilise adverse public opinion against her and her family (scornfully called "Mannargudi mafia") through the social media, people close to her seemed to have played their cards well. The biggest source of the apparent public dislike against her are the memories of the past when her family members had a lawless run in the state, mostly during Jaya's first government during 1991-96. They indeed wielded enormous extraconstitutional power and were really menacing. However, in Jaya's later regimes, they were bridled and in 2011, she expelled 18 of them and took back only Sasikala on her written assurance that they would be "persona non grata." They remained unwanted till Jaya died.

With the bigwigs also falling in line, there's absolutely no opposition to her heading the party exactly the way Sonia Gandhi controlled the Congress while a pliant Manmohan Singh ran the government.

However, when all of them appeared beside Sasikala and Jaya's body at the Rajaji hall before the funeral, there was widespread public dissent. Many thought that they would now ride piggyback on Sasikala as forbiddingly as in 1991-96. However, on Saturday, Times of India reported that Sasikala has asked all of them to leave Poes Garden and not to meddle with the affairs of the party or the government. The paper also reported that she has asked senior government officials also not to pay heed to any of them.

Apparently, only her niece (brother's daughter and a co-accused in the disproportionate assets case) Ilavarasi and her family have been allowed to stay back. Ilavarasi has been staying with her family at the Poes Garden even when Jaya was alive. There's no word on Sasikala's husband M Natarajan, a perpetual bragger, though.

As far as the AIADMK is considered, there cannot be a better choice than Sasikala because without such a titular head, the party will implode given its inherent caste and power dynamics. Despite all the procedural formalities that it undertakes to look like a democratic party, AIADMK is no different from a typical dynastic Indian political party and hence she - as the associate, caregiver and "sister" of Jaya for more than three decades - perfectly fits the bill of an inheritor when there's no other family claimant. Moreover, she has been handling party affairs for a long time, particularly in holding discussions with potential allies as well as in doing the initial rounds of screening for seat-allocation. Reportedly, most of the MLAs of the party have been chosen by her.

If she indeed becomes the General Secretary, she will be the first leader in Tamil Nadu who has risen to the top of a party without ever making a public speech. Nobody in fact even knows how she sounds. Can she really make it? This time, one cannot really avoid the cliche: only time will tell.

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