It was a bitter Valentine's Day for VK Sasikala. The Supreme Court just delivered a body blow to her ambitions. It found her guilty in the 20-year-old disproportionate assets case, slapped a fine of ₹10 crore on her and ordered her to surrender immediately. She will now be out of active politics for the next ten years, which means her chief ministership of Tamil Nadu ended before it even began. It's seen as the end of the infamous Mannargudi Mafia that surrounded Sasikala and tried to exert a stranglehold on politics in the state.
O Panneerselvam, who has been locked in a battle with Sasikala for the top mantle, should be smiling. The court seems to have just made his path easier, though the AIADMK, which has majority, could nominate another person. His supporters are bursting firecrackers. But there's one line in the breaking news about the judgement that should give all sides pause.
10:46 AM: Proceedings against former CM Jayalalithaa's stand abated.
10:47 AM: SC, however, found incriminating evidence against Jayalalithaa.
Death spared Jayalalithaa the ignominy of another conviction. But it leaves vexing questions for those who seek to take charge of her legacy since the court did not clear her name.
Both Sasikala and Panneerselvam are doing it in Jayalalithaa's name. Both are claiming her blessings. Both are staking their claim in the name of their proximity to the late Amma herself.
When Panneerselvam launched his belated rebellion against Sasikala, he went and meditated at Jaya's memorial and then claimed "Amma's spirit spoke" to him. His camp points out that no other minister was trusted as much by Jayalalithaa who handed the reins of government to him, not once but twice, when she had to vacate the chief minister's office. Panneerselvam was her 100% loyal lieutenant.
Sasikala, on the other hand, pulled at emotional heartstrings by portraying herself as the true confidante and companion of Jayalalithaa when her chips were down. When she was depressed and humiliated after MG Ramachandran's death, Sasikala said it was she who bolstered her and gave her the strength and encouragement to keep going. She was the one who helped her choose candidates and gave her counsel. "I carry Amma in my soul," she said in her first address as party chief. "We have assembled here to guard the confidence of Amma and it will be the AIADMK which will rule the state even for 100 more years ... she was everything for me and for us all."
At this point media observers noted that Sasikala's right hand went up in the air with one finger pointing to the heavens — a mannerism right out of the Jayalalithaa copybook. Sasikala entered the AIADMK headquarters in the passenger seat of a white Landrover just like Jayalalithaa. Her moss green sari with a maroon border, the hair tied in a loose bun, also evoked memories of the late leader. Sandhya Ravishankar writes in the Hindustan Times that the message being sent was clear — "The Queen was dead but long live the queen, said every element of the reincarnation."
But wait, they are not the only ones. Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa's niece, left out in the cold, is also trying to cash in on the Jayalalithaa legacy. She has no political experience but she has the bloodline. And HT noted how she has been playing up the family resemblance, appearing on the balcony of her home in Chennai, "hair done up in a tight bun, waving two fingers, the symbol for the AIADMK, the two leaves." Until now she has been playing coy about whether she would join the party or form her own but the Supreme Court verdict might hasten that decision. She could be Jayalalithaa Lite without disproportionate assets.
Poor Pannerselvam cannot quite compete on this level with these two women who can photoshop themselves into being Amma's doppelgänger. But in a political system, where the leader built up a hysterical cult following, everyone is trying to fit into Jayalalithaa's 750 pairs of shoes and claim that that's what Amma would have wanted.
Poor Pannerselvam cannot quite compete on this level with these two women who can photoshop themselves into being Amma's doppelgänger
That's where the disproportionate assets verdict is so troubling. It should, in all fairness, leave a dark cloud over Jayalalithaa's own legacy if indeed incriminating evidence was found. No one should forget the 800 kg of silver, 28 kg of gold, 750 pairs of shoes, 10,500 saris and 91 watches seized from Poes Garden. On top of that, her accomplices were accused of acting as benami owners of 32 private firms.
What then does it mean for Panneerselvam to claim the mantle as the man in whom this person reposed her unstinted trust? Sasikala might be directly involved in the case, but Panneerselvam can hardly claim to be the new broom that sweeps clean. The verdict might ensnare Sasikala but it hardly gives a clean chit to Panneerselvam whose entire career is built on unswerving loyalty to the woman against whom the court also found incriminating evidence.
The tragedy of Tamil Nadu is that in the end whoever in the AIADMK stakes the claim to its top post will still do so in the name of Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK official handle has already tweeted, "Whenever there had been burden for Amma (Jayalalithaa) she (Sasikala) had taken it on her. She is doing the same now also. #Chinnamma."
The inconvenient truth of the "incriminating evidence" will be set aside as all sides try to outdo each other in their loyalty to their dearly departed Amma.
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