[dropcap]G[/dropcap]rieving Jayalalithaa supporters suddenly found someone else to turn their attention to—Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa, who closely resembles her aunt, has announced her entry into politics. Earlier, the crowd at Jayalalithaa’s burial site was swelling, and some were visibly emotional, when Deepa and a few of her family members walked in. On seeing her, the crowd started surrounding her, some women exclaiming, “You resemble Amma, we see her in your face”. As more people started walking behind Deepa in large numbers, police personnel on security duty there, cordoned her off and took her to the D6 Anna Square police station near Marina Beach. Some among the public had begun clicking her pictures.
Deepa, though she is Jayalalithaa’s brother Jayakumar’s daughter, had been kept at arm’s length all throughout the time when the former chief minister was admitted in hospital. It is said that she waited for three days hoping to be allowed to see her ailing aunt but was told that security personnel had instructions from high authorities not to let her in. While she was alive, Jayalalithaa had ensured that all relatives of Sasikala, even her husband Natarajan whom she initially trusted, were kept at a distance, but after her death, strangely, it was they who surrounded her body. People are more inclined towards Deepa as many believe that Chinnama Sasikala is the reason behind Jayalalithaa’s demise.
Jayalalithaa, who passed away leaving Tamil Nadu in tears and pain, what does her death indicate for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the party founded by MGR and revived hugely by Jayalalithaa after a vertical split following his death? If the people at the head of Jayalalithaa’s funeral bier are any indication, Sasikala and her large extended Mannargudi family are in control. What political ambitions she, her estranged husband, and many other nephews and nieces nurture is not known. Will the family’s hold continue?
In December 1987, when party founder MG Ramachandran died , Jayalalithaa assumed a similar position to the one Sasikala took on at the Rajaji Hall. Two years later, Jayalalithaa would become the AIADMK supremo. However, Sasikala did not face the kind of bitterness Jayalalithaa defied from AIADMK members in 1987. There was a touch of reverence in the way party leaders attended to Sasikala, who is known in the organisation as “Chinna Amma” or younger mother. Sasikala performed the final rituals in the Vaishnavite tradition to which Jayalalithaa belonged. However, she wasn’t alone in this task. Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak Jayakumar made a surprise appearance and followed Sasikala closely during the rites.
The way AIADMK leaders conducted themselves during Jayalalithaa’s funeral provided ample indications about where the new power centre was shifting. Almost every political leader, including Narendra Modi who paid homage to Jayalalithaa’s body reached out to Sasikala to console her. While she stood prominently next to Jayalalithaa’s remains, O Panneerselvam, who was sworn in as chief minister, chose to mostly remain with other ministers and party members. Congress leaders, in particular, were keen to introduce both Sasikala and her husband Natarajan to party vice president Rahul Gandhi. Natarajan’s presence at the funeral surprised many as it was assumed for long that he was not in Jayalalithaa’s good books.
In 1991 Jayalalithaa became chief minister; Tamil Nadu’s youngest, for the first time. She earned a reputation for a punishing work ethic and for centralising state power among a coterie of bureaucrats; her council of ministers, whom she often shuffled around, were largely ceremonial in nature. Despite an official salary of only a rupee a month, Jayalalithaa indulged in public displays of wealth, culminating in a lavish wedding for her foster son in then Madras (Chennai) in 1995. In the 1996 election, the AIADMK was nearly wiped out at the hustings; Jayalalithaa herself lost her seat. The new Karunanidhi government quickly filed several corruption cases against her, and she had to spend time in jail. Her fortunes revived in the 1998 general election, as the AIADMK became a key component of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government; her withdrawal of support toppled it and triggered another general election just a year later.
The AIADMK returned to power in 2001, although Jayalalithaa was personally disbarred from contesting due to the corruption cases. Within a few months of her taking oath as chief minister, in September 2001, she was disqualified from holding office, and forced to cede the chair to her staunch loyalist O. Panneerselvam. Upon her acquittal six months later, Jayalalithaa returned as chief minister to complete her term. Her government was noted for its ruthlessness; midnight arrests of political opponents abound. The unpopularity of these moves—the AIADMK scored a duck in the 2004 general election—forced her to reverse them, though she was able to contain the DMK’s victory margin in the 2006 assembly election. In the 2011 assembly election, the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK and its allies routed the ruling, scandal-tainted DMK’s alliance.
Sworn in as chief minister for the fourth time, her government embarked on an ambitious programme of social welfare and development. However, three months into her tenure, a trial court convicted her in a disproportionate assets case in September 2014, rendering her disqualified to hold office. After eight months, which included a twenty-day stint in jail, Jayalalithaa was acquitted of all charges by the Karnataka High Court and once again sworn-in as chief minister in May 2015. In the 2016 assembly election, she became the first Tamil Nadu chief minister since MGR in 1984 to be voted back into office.
Surely, a great leader of Tamil Nadu has gone and people of this state will remember for the good work performed by her mainly to the poorer sections as well as giving a good facelift to Chennai city by introducing Mini buses at several areas not covered by bus facilities. Also Amma chemist shops, Amma Canteen which were already become very famous. It is very unfortunate that death has snatched away a good leader so quickly just when she was trying to do more good for the people of this state. She was an astute politician, and had a mutually comforting relationship with her voters. Indian politics should evolve into one in which the voters are educated not to be guided by freebies, but by the long term interests of the nation.
Now coming back to holding power, during Jayalalithaa’s three tenures as Chief Minister, Sasikala is alleged to have wielded absolute power behind the scenes. She was arrested along with Jayalalithaa as on 7 December 1996 and was remanded to judicial custody for 30 days in connection with the Colour TV scam. However, they were acquitted by the Supreme Court as the charges were found to be baseless allegations. On 19 December 2011, Jayalalithaa expelled her and 13 others including Sasikala’s husband Natarajan and their relatives, including T. T. V. Dhinakaran and Jayalalithaa’s disowned foster son V N Sudhakaran and relieved them from the AIADMK. Sasikala was admitted back into the party on 31 March 2012, when she vowed to sever ties with all her relatives and to serve with no public ambitions. Sasikala along with Jayalalithaa and two others were sentenced to 4 years imprisonment by a special court in Bangalore on 27 September 2014. They were acquitted by High Court as they were not found to be guilty. The case is now pending in Supreme Court.
Sasikala is known for her power sharing capacity with Jayalalithaa and many speculate she may take the reins of AIADMK. But at the same time Deepa can stand as rival forming her own party or gradually joining AIADMK as Jayalalithaa supporters see Amma’s resemblances in her. Let’s see who rocks future power corridors of Tamil Nadu.
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