POLITICS

Sasikala's Husband Natarajan Jostles His Way To Centrestage By Taking On The BJP

The buzz was that Sasikala will take over as CM on 18 January.

17/01/2017 4:11 PM IST | Updated 17/01/2017 5:12 PM IST
AFP/Getty Images
General secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), VK Sasikala (C) gestures to cadres on her arrival to take up office at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on December 31, 2016.

When people speak out of turn, be sure they are on edge. That is the only way to interpret M Natarajan's political outburst at a Pongal event in Thanjavur. On Monday, Sasikala's husband accused the BJP of trying to split the AIADMK, destabilise the government and "saffronise'' Tamil Nadu.

This is the first clear indication that in the cat-and-mouse game being played between the AIADMK and the BJP since 5 December, the gloves are off. Natarajan's direct charge is also proof that all his efforts to reach out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have come to nought.

This is the first clear indication that in the cat-and-mouse game being played between the AIADMK and the BJP since 5 December, the gloves are off.

It was an open secret that New Delhi wasn't too excited about the prospect of Sasikala becoming party chief, leave alone the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. The Income Tax raids on the former chief secretary Rammohana Rao were seen as a warning to the powers-that-be in Chennai. They did not work, Sasikala went on to become the AIADMK general secretary without a single voice of dissent.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters
People pay homage to the body of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, who died on Monday, in Chennai, India, December 6, 2016.

But it seems, the BJP was determined not to let Chinnamma make the journey from Poes Garden to Fort St George, that houses the Tamil Nadu Secretariat. The BJP on more than one occasion, has made it clear that it would prefer status quo of a pliant O. Panneerselvam in the chief minister's chair. "We will continue to work with and support Panneerselvam'' statement by Union minister Venkaiah Naidu was an iron fist message delivered under a velvet glove.

Natarajan ever since he was banished by Jayalalithaa, has been a persona non grata for the AIADMK rank and file. But in the post-Jayalalithaa era, the leadership has not had the spine to question Sasikala about his increasing prominence. It is astonishing that Natarajan, not even a member of the AIADMK, is allowed to give a lifeline to Panneerselvam in the CM's chair.

Natarajan ever since he was banished by Jayalalithaa, has been a persona non grata for the AIADMK rank and file. But in the post-Jayalalithaa era, the leadership has not had the spine to question Sasikala about his increasing prominence.

Natarajan's 'Panneerselvam will stay' declaration is in total contrast to the mood in Chennai last week. The buzz was that Sasikala will take over as CM on 18 January, an auspicious date. It is pretty obvious things are not going according to plan for the Sasikala camp.

Natarajan took on RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy in particular, accusing him of furthering a saffron agenda. He seems to have been piqued by Gurumurthy's request to actor Rajinikanth to take the political plunge. At the 'Thuglak' event to remember its former editor Cho Ramaswamy on 14 January, the superstar also remarked that an "abnormal situation'' is prevailing in Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa's demise.

ARUN SANKAR via Getty Images
General secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), VK Sasikala gestures to cadres on her arrival to take up office at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai on December 31, 2016. VK Sasikala was elected as the general secretary of southern Tamil Nadu state's ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after its chief, Jayalalithaa -- popularly known as 'Amma' or mother -- died aged 68 on December 5. / AFP / ARUN SANKAR (Photo credit should read ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sasikala camp obviously thinks there is a pattern in this, that there is more than what meets the eye. Which is perhaps why AIADMK supporter and actor-turned-politician Sarath Kumar came out immediately to diss Rajinikanth. The suspicion is that his outburst against Rajini was scripted elsewhere. Natarajan following suit with an attack on Gurumurthy and "brahmins like him'' who are out to split AIADMK means the BJP has managed to get under his skin.

What this proves is that contrary to the "estranged'' image the Natarajan couple tries to project, the husband is well entrenched in the affairs of the AIADMK. And if he is making the very serious charge of the party in power in New Delhi trying to destabilise a state government, he knows a lot more than what he has spelt out.

It is surprising that a smart political mind like Sasikala is letting Natarajan come out in the open. She ought to realise that as far as the ground level cadre is concerned, Natarajan is her Achilles heel. Her brother V Dhivaharan also queered the pitch by praising Natarajan, claiming that he saved the party after MGR's death in 1987 and got the two leaves symbol for the AIADMK.

Former minister KP Munusamy refuted Dhivaharan's claim. And by doing so, he shattered the all is well narrative that was sought to be propagated. The AIADMK legislator from Krishnagiri constituency objected to Dhivaharan's attempts to muscle his way into the party. "The attempts being made by people who were once expelled from the party to gain control over the structure will not be tolerated by the cadre,'' he said. That three ministers loyal to Sasikala, were drafted to attack Munusamy within hours, showed that the senior leader's comments had rattled the leadership.

It is pretty apparent that Sasikala's family which had retreated into a shell after the manner in which the cadre reacted negatively to its presence around Jayalalithaa's casket on 6 December, has decided to come out.

But it is Dhivaharan's claim that there was a "huge conspiracy to kill Jayalalithaa in 2011 which Sasikala's family managed to avert'' that is significant. "They wanted to remove us so that they can finish off Amma,'' he alleged, not making it clear who 'they' referred to.

It is pretty apparent that Sasikala's family which had retreated into a shell after the manner in which the cadre reacted negatively to its presence around Jayalalithaa's casket on 6 December, has decided to come out. Natarajan and Dhivaharan are flaunting themselves openly as the power centres in the AIADMK.

By accusing the BJP of nefarious designs, Natarajan is also positioning himself as a protector of AIADMK interests. It will be interesting to watch how the rank and file in the party reacts to this attempt by Natarajan at redeeming himself as he plays his brand of palace intrigue politics.

More On This Topic

SPONSORED BY THE LIVE, LOVE, LAUGH FOUNDATION