Push has started coming from within the AIADMK for making V K Sasikala, aid of Jayalalithaa, as the next General Secretary of the party. Even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has endorsed the stand of AIADMK workers for elevating Sasikala to the party chief’s post. In that way, mists around the selection of the Dravidian party’s top leader have started rolling away. Across the regional parties, especially where it is one-man or one-woman show, ideology does not matter; primary consideration for the succession moves around factors like dynasty or loyalty. In the case of the AIADMK, loyalty factor has reigned supremely as Jayalalithaa, who headed the party since the 1990s, was spinster and there was no question of having a dynastic successor. Therefore, being a close associate of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala is seen as an obvious choice by the party workers for the top post.
Will Sasikala be able to steer AIADMK to glory?
It is too early to say that Sasikala will be able to take the party’s interests forward. There is no denying the fact that Sasikala lived in the shadow of Jayalalithaa since the early ’80s and was a constant figure in her life, even as the latter lay bedridden for 73 days in the ICU of Chennai’s Apollo Hospital. But this lone criteria will help her exercise the kind of control that Jayalalithaa had over her party, which claims to have 1.5 crore members, is a million dollar question.
She may be a unifying factor within the AIADMK, but whether she wears brilliance, dynamism and tenaciousness of her mentor Jayalalithaa, remains to be assessed. In fact, very little is known about Sasikala’s early life except the fact that she belongs to the Thevar community, a powerful backward caste in Tamil Nadu and that she was introduced to Jayalalithaa by V S Chandralekha, the-then District Collector of Cuddalore.
Sasikala’s husband M Natrajan was Assistant Public Relation Officer in Cuddalore. In 1987, when M G Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa’s co-actor in Tamil films and her political mentor died, the latter was politically sidelined by a group led by Janaki Ramachandran, wife of M G Ramachandran. But Sasikala stood by her. Two years later, Sasikala’s loyalty to Jayalalithaa was tested for the first time when the former AIADMK supremo threw M Natrajan from her Poes Garden residence on the suspicion of being part of a group that wanted to pull the rug from her feet. Instead of going along with her husband, Sasikala chose to stay back at Poes Garden.
It was not that she herself did not suffer humiliation at the hands of Jayalalithaa. She was twice thrown out of Poes Garden, only to be admitted back later. However, all this led to framing of a positive opinion about Sasikala and her loyalty to Jayalalithaa. Still, a prominent question that needs to be asked is: Will she be able to fit in the shoes of ‘Amma’?
How Jayalalithaa managed to stay at top?
A perennial charmer, Jayalalithaa didn’t let her aura fade away. Even after her long and chequered film career, she dwelt time and space in creating her persona during her political career. Perhaps, this was one of the key reasons why she stayed afloat the trenchant anti-Brahmin move of the Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu.
It should be recalled that E V Ramasamy, known as ‘Periyar’, had started anti-Brahmin movement in this Southern state of the country in the 1960s. This movement was later fanned by C M Annadurai who had split with Periyar to form the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949 and became the state Chief Minister in 1967. Even M G Ramachandran, who founded the AIADMK after splitting the DMK, continued with anti-Brahmin movement during his 10 years rule from 1977 to 1987. It is said that even Jayalalithaa, despite being a Brahmin, didn’t interfere with the core ideology of Dravidian politics when she became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Rather Jayalalithaa, for whom taking charge of her mentor M G Ramachandran’s mantle was not a cake walk, ensured that the AIADMK remained relevant to political framework of its founder.
Besides anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindi has been the main plank of Dravidian politics in the state. While Jayalalithaa allowed it remain unchanged, she, like Ramachandran, became authoritarian also. She never allowed party leaders howsoever smart and intelligent they may be, to raise their heads and talk to her by looking into her eyes. Carrot and stick policy governed her style of functioning both within the party and the state administration.
Why Jayalalithaa ran pro-poor agenda?
By running pro-poor agenda, Jayalalithaa managed to craft such an image among the common people that they saw in her a benevolent, motherly figure, instead of an arrogant and high-headed priestess of narcissism.
Before being sent to jail in disproportionate assets case in 1996, searches carried out by the Income Tax sleuths in her Chennai and Hyderabad houses led to findings of innumerable valuables and documents relating to property valued at Rs 58 crore. It included 30-kg jewellery (400 pairs of gold bangles), 500 kg of silver, more than 100 wrist watches, 150 precious stones, besides a wardrobe of 10,000 saris and 250 pairs of imported footwear. Despite this, when assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu in 2001, Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK won with a thumping majority in the polls.
Her populist measures like providing for subsidized food, health plans, free colour television, laptops, mixers and grinders kept her image of being a benevolent political head intact in the state. To keep her aura growing, she allowed ‘Amma’ brand to cover each and every thing that affected common people. In September 2013, she launched Amma mineral water distribution scheme so that people can get hygienic drinking water at affordable cost.
Then in 2014, she launched pro-farmer Amma seeds scheme, under which her government provided high quality, certified seeds to farmers at affordable prices. But push came to shove when she launched Amma cement to check price rise of building materials. A 50-kg bag of cement was availed to people at highly subsidized rate of Rs 190. Similarly, beneficial schemes were launched in the state’s healthcare sector too. From blood to urine to cholesterol and other body check-up facilities were carried out at low prices. Besides, she also initiated a health plan that made several medical facilities free of cost. These schemes not only helped her put rivals on the edge, but also washed away corruption charges she often got entangled in during her 14-year of rein in the state as chief minister.
For Sasikala, it may be easy to become the AIADMK chief. Yet, will she be able to intelligently stay the course is a tough question to be answered so easily.