Sasikala Natarajan was one of J Jayalalithaa's most constant companions during her lifetime, in spite of their love-hate relationship. In death, too, she shadowed her benefactor, keeping vigil over her body as it was laid in state at Rajaji Bhavan in Chennai.
Since her death, Sasikala has emerged from the shadows and is rumoured to have a major influence on O Panneerselvam, who was sworn in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa's death. And the extent of her hold over the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is becoming increasingly evident with each passing day.
Her family, who she had to publicly renounce to gain back Jayalalithaa's trust, were seen around her, next to the late CM's body, a gathering the latter would have despised. In 2012, reports claimed Natarajan and her husband were slow-poisoning the CM, ahead of the hearing on the disproportionate assets case. There were speculations about the Mannargudi Mafia, as Sasikala and her clan are known, planning a palace coup. As the rumours became public, Jayalalithaa ousted Sasikala and her family from her inner circle, but took her longterm aide back in only after she promised to sever all ties with her own kin.
With Jayalalithaa gone, Sasikala has returned with increased clout among the party workers. The new CM and other ministers went for a meeting with her at Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden bungalow, where she had been living with the former CM for over three decades now. In all likelihood, Sasikala will inherit the prime property as well as several crores of Jayalalithaa's wealth.
However, becoming the leader of the AIADMK is not going to be easy at all for Sasikala, who belongs to the Thevar caste. The two previous stalwarts of the party -- MG Ramachandran, a Keralite, and Jayalalithaa, a Kannadiga Brahmin -- were both outsiders, who were revered precisely because they didn't bring in any of the complex caste dynamics that insiders in Tamil Nadu would have. No surprise that resistance is building up within the party against Chinamma -- as Sasikala fashioned herself after Jayalalithaa, who was revered as Amma -- even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seem to be favourably disposed towards her.
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