Loyalty pays. It just takes around three decades to reach the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. That just about sums up Sasikala Natarajan’s journey thus far.
So who is Sasikala Natarajan and why is she in the middle of a controversial storm in Tamil Nadu?
Sasikala has been a personal confidante and assistant to late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa for over 30 years. Post Jayalalithaa’s recent death, Sasikala is now being positioned to take over as the new Chief Minister (CM) of Tamil Nadu in place of the interim CM, O. Panneerselvam.
She has the support of a large section of AIAIDMK senior party members and has already been appointed as the head of AIADMK. Her ascendency to power as the new CM of Tamil Nadu now seems a mere formality.
Unofficial reports seem to suggest that she will be sworn in as the CM on Thursday, February 9, as that day seems to be most auspicious, as per her close advisers.
For or against Sasikala
There is a raging controversy surrounding her move to her step into Jayalalithaa’s shoes, as people and certain party functionaries are increasingly questioning her credentials and experience in running a state. And that, without ever having won a political mandate from the people.
Social media is awash with angry comments from those opposing her rise, but there are also those who are vociferously supporting her as the best available option after J. Jayalalithaa.
So how does a person who has been in the shadows of a high profile and popular public figure, overnight, earn the right to step into her shoes and stake her claim as a legitimate heir to the political legacy so assiduously built by that public figure?
Very obviously opinions are divided on this, just as political sharks are busy calculating the stakes and the opportunity, both at the state and central politics.
But isn’t this an encore? Remember how J. Jayalalithaa was pushed off the gun carriage that carried the dead body of her friend and political mentor, MG Ramachandran, who died while in office as CM? What were her credentials at the time?
Post Ramachandran’s death, AIADMK was split into two warring factions – his wife headed one faction, staking claim to his political legacy, while Jayalalithaa headed the other faction, claiming her right to head the party.
Jayalalithaa won and AIADMK became her fiefdom. She ruled with an iron hand and took on Karunanidhi of DMK, as her biggest political enemy. Over time, she emerged as ‘Amma’ to millions in her state, most of whom looked up to her with adulation and admiration. So just where and how did Sasikala enter into Amma’s life?
The rise of Sasikala
V.K Sasikala, or just Sasikala, as she is popularly known, comes from a very humble background. Born in 1957, she lived in Mannargudi in Thanjavur district and moved to Chennai post her marriage to M. Natarajan, a state government PRO.
She soon started a small business of videography and video cassette renting in Chennai. Sasikala would go about filming weddings and public functions in her area and then prepare a video of the event. In 1984, during a visit to Cuddalore to attend a party meeting, Jayalalithaa was introduced to Sasikala, who offered to film her political meetings.
Soon Sasikala found herself meeting Jayalalithaa more frequently and sooner she became Jayalalithaa’s personal assistant and confidante. In the latter part of the ’80s, she shifted to Poes Garden, Jayalalithaa’s sprawling personal residence.
But it was not smooth sailing for her. Charges of corruption and internal dispute with Jayalalithaa saw Sasikala being asked to leave Poes Garden in 1996 and again in 2011. In March 2012, after issuing a public apology and distancing herself from her family, Sasikala was back in favour and re-entered Poes Garden. At this point, several questions were raised regarding her hold over Jayalalithaa and why the CM was so dependent on her.
Controversy followed Sasikala and Jayalalithaa
Both have faced serious corruption charges over the years, but Jayalalithaa has been a fighter throughout – taking on a hostile opposition and an active judicial system. To her credit, Sasikala never left her side and has always stood by Jayalalithaa in both good and bad times, for over three decades. Time now to encash that loyalty.
Is it right to question Sasikala’s credentials?
It’s a fair question given the fact that similar controversial situations have been faced by other political figures.
In India, it’s perfectly normal for kin, siblings and children to claim political legacy as a birth right. The problem does not lie with the concerned individual but people in general, who seem to have an inherent need to be ruled and to remain servile. We have been doing it for centuries and now is no different.
How different is Sasikala’s claim to power from Lalu’s two semi-literate sons overnight becoming ministers in Bihar, Omar Abdullah becoming the CM in J&K, Akhilesh Yadav and his family ruling in U.P, or for that matter the Gandhi dynasty?
The list is long, as politics has now become a family business, where power needs to be retained by the family at any cost. And Sasikala, after all, has been Jayalalithaa’s soul sister, hasn’t she? In the Indian political landscape that should be enough.
Sasikala may have never stood for an election but she has been an active participant in state politics. Despite her passive silence through the years, she is today more familiar with party functionaries at the grass-roots level, than Lalu’s sons, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav or Rahul Gandhi could ever be.
Whether she has a moral or ethical right to political power is a larger question and must be applicable to all; failing that, she stands far more experienced in state politics than any of the august names mentioned above.
There could be trouble ahead
Sasikala becoming the next CM of Tamil Nadu seems to be a done deal but she remains vulnerable to prosecution, in the ongoing disproportionate assets case where she is a co-accused along with late CM Jayalalithaa.
Supreme Court is preparing to pass a judgement on the case next week, the outcome of which could well impact Sasikala’s political future. It may be prudent for Sasikala to postpone her coronation till then, but will her tentative party members play along?