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Jayalalithaa's Niece Deepa Jayakumar Challenges Sasikala To Claim Her Aunt's Legacy

Battle of succession.

11/12/2016 9:05 AM IST | Updated 11/12/2016 10:41 AM IST
Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press
Sasikala Natarajan with the late J Jayalithaa's body. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

The new chief minister of Tamil Nadu, O Panneerselvam, has unequivocally backed Sasikala Natarajan for the role of general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), but the path to power for the late chief minister's closest aide may not be all that smooth.

Since J Jayalalithaa's death on 5 December, a woman with uncanny resemblance to her has suddenly come into focus in the public eye. Deepa Jayakumar, the 42-year-old niece of the deceased chief minister, was allegedly prevented by the police from entering Apollo Hospital to meet her ailing aunt. Later, she was also forced to wait for over 8 hours at the Poes Garden bungalow to get a last glimpse of her aunt's body. Since then, she has emerged from the shadows to challenge the choice of Sasikala as the leader of the party.

AFP/Getty Images
The mortal remains of J Jayaram.

Calling the move "very unfortunate", Deepa told The Times of India, such an undemocratic way of appointing a successor could lead to resentment among the people. In interviews with The News Minute and The Economic Times, she outlined the circumstances which lead to the estrangement of her family from her aunt.

According to Deepa, the family was close-knit till the 1990s, when she lived with Jayalalithaa along with her brother and parents in the Poes Garden bungalow. Deepa remembered her aunt as being caring and affectionate towards her family. However, following Jayalalithaa's extravagance at the wedding of her foster son, Sudhakaran, she fell out with her brother, Deepa's father. Since then the ties became strained, though after Deepa's father's death, her aunt mourned grievously and conducted the last rites ceremony in 1995.

Deepa hasn't ruled out the possibility of joining politics, although she has left the decision to the people's will.

Deepa claimed she wished her aunt on her birthdays and tried to meet her but was always prevented by her aides to get anywhere near her. The two were not in touch when Deepa when off to Cardiff University for a degree in International Journalism, but in 2014, she came back to India and went to see her aunt in jail in Bangalore. Although her aunt was willing to meet her, she was once again prevented seeing her.

Deepa also expressed displeasure over the way the last rites were held. "It was very sad that none of our extended relatives [were] even informed or asked to attend the last rites. Tradition was not followed in the proper way ," she told ToI. On the bulk of Jayalalithaa's property going to Sasikala, Deepa said she and her family were the legal heirs to her fortune and it should come to them in the absence of a clear will.

However, Deepa's brother, Deepak, was present with Sasikala, when Jayalalithaa was laid to rest -- a fact to which she said, "I had no clue that he was going there. We are not in bad terms, but we are different. He was quite comfortable with them, and I wasn't. He was ready to do their bidding but I am not. I will not listen to them. It was very upsetting to see him there."

"I am also not averse to the idea of getting support from other parties to help AIADMK be put on the right path" - Deepa Jayakumar

Deepa hasn't ruled out the possibility of joining politics, although she has left the decision to the people's will. Asked if she would be accepted as the heir to Jayalalithaa's legacy, she said, "In politics, successors are sometimes groomed, but sometimes they just emerge." She cited the case of Rajiv Gandhi, who was a pilot but was thrust abruptly into politics after the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi.

While Deepa has objected to Sasikala's uncontested election to the leadership of AIADMK, she has agreed to support her in case supporters of the party feel so. "I am also not averse to the idea of getting support from other parties to help AIADMK be put on the right path," she added for good measure.

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