If VK Sasikala maintained a personal diary, she would have had a lot to scribble in the last couple of months. Though she managed to ensure very little slipped out of the high security Critical Care Unit where Jayalalithaa was hospitalised for 75 days since 22 September, things since 5 December when the chief minister passed away have only been a case of mistake after mistake after mistake. It is almost as if Sasikala lacks advisors who will think five steps ahead of her rivals within the AIADMK and outside.
These are the three mistakes of Sasikala's life in the last 70 days.
Within hours of Jaya passing away, Sasikala proved that blood was thicker than kinship of three decades.
Mistake number one : Allowing the Mannargudi family members and her husband M Natarajan to crowd around Jayalalithaa's casket at Rajaji Hall on 6 December. Most of them had been thrown out of her Poes Garden residence by Jayalalithaa in 2011 and Jaya had taken back Sasikala only on condition that she will have no truck with them. However, within hours of Jaya passing away, Sasikala proved that blood was thicker than kinship of three decades. The Mannargudi presence did not go unnoticed by the cadre that felt restless and angry and it was the first indication that Sasikala could not be trusted with Jaya's legacy.
"Our patience has a limit. We will wait only to an extent and after that, we will do what we have to.'' It was interpreted as a veiled threat to the Tamil Nadu Governor and did her cause and image no good.
It is obvious that the family constitutes her advisory team. But does Sasikala's backroom team brainstorm before making her face the cameras? It does not seem to be so because this is what she said on Saturday, "Our patience has a limit. We will wait only to an extent and after that, we will do what we have to.'' It was interpreted as a veiled threat to the Tamil Nadu Governor and did her cause and image no good. She was pilloried on social media for suggesting that violence could break out. The attack on the media at Poes Garden and outside the resort on Sunday evening is also allegedly seen as a reaction to Sasikala's call. It also showed that she was perhaps cracking under pressure because her MPs have been slipping away and there is no guarantee that the legislators won't if they are not under the watch of the AIADMK bouncers.
Mistake number two : Sasikala showing a tearing hurry to replace Panneerselvam as chief minister was bad messaging. All through January, Tamil Nadu was abuzz with auspicious days being chosen for Sasikala to be sworn in as CM. This when a silent Panneerselvam was letting his work do the talking and winning accolades for the relief work during Cyclone Vardah, getting water from Andhra and the Jallikattu ordinance. The public was fine with Sasikala being party chief but the vulgar hurry to head the government as well, was not appreciated.
The public loves the underdog which is why when 'David' Panneerselvam took on 'Goliath' Sasikala, the public sentiment was on his side.
In order to show Panneerselvam his place, she humiliated him on many occasions. She would not acknowledge his presence at most public occasions, made him sit among other MLAs instead of showing the CM the respect his position warranted. She did nothing to stop ministers from openly demanding Panneerselvam's head despite the CM complaining of being insulted. The public loves the underdog which is why when 'David' Panneerselvam took on 'Goliath' Sasikala, the public sentiment was on his side.
Her staying on in Veda Nilayam also was a sore point for many. In the absence of any will left behind by Jayalalithaa bequeathing the house to Sasikala, she was seen as an interloper. Panneerselvam's plan to convert Veda Nilayam into Amma Memorial is a political masterstroke because it underlines Sasikala's alleged encroacher status and adds to the AIADMK cadre's litany of woes against her.
She always suspected that Panneerselvam was a Trojan horse and had been Modi-fied by the BJP backing. Tuesday night's revolt meant her worst fears came true.
Mistake number three : The BJP was never quite keen on Sasikala becoming CM. The party had dropped enough hints that it was more happy with a dual leadership arrangement. The IT raids on the former chief secretary Rammohana Rao in December were seen as a message to the Sasikala camp to back off. But instead, Rao came out all guns blazing against the Union government. And finally, Sasikala's Sunday afternoon move to get elected as the new leader of the legislature party signaled an all-out war against her detractors. She always suspected that Panneerselvam was a Trojan horse and had been Modi-fied by the BJP backing. Tuesday night's revolt meant her worst fears came true.
In panic mode, Sasikala moved all her MLAs into a resort in Kanchipuram district. On the face of it, she was only following in the inglorious traditions of Indian democracy that resorts to keeping a flock of legislators under lock and key to prevent horse-trading. But with the stay at the resort extending to its fifth day, patience is running thin among legislators who are reportedly not happy at this trust deficit. Allegations of the political imbroglio turning into a pot (boiler) of gold also are not making the Sasikala camp look good.
With the Damocles sword of the Supreme court verdict in the Disproportionate Assets case hanging on her head, the coming week will settle Sasikala's fate.
But despite these three mistakes, arithmetically Sasikala is still better placed than Panneerselvam. But the CM may just about succeed in his short-term goal - that of denying Sasikala the top job by ensuring the number of her legislators is below the magical half-way mark of 117. With the Damocles sword of the Supreme court verdict in the Disproportionate Assets case hanging on her head, the coming week will settle Sasikala's fate. An acquittal will take her to Fort St George, that houses the Tamil Nadu secretariat as chief minister. A conviction will take her to the Bengaluru central prison where she and Jayalalithaa spent three weeks in 2014 after being convicted by a lower court in the same case.
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