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Why Sasikala's elevation is a challenge to the BJP

By N Sathiya Moorthy
December 30, 2016 08:32 IST
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Despite the BJP's displeasure over Sasikala's elevation as AIADMK general secretary, the Dravidian party has sent a message to the Modi government that it will not be cowed down, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: V K Sasikala keeps the AIADMK resolution which appointed her as party general secretary before a portrait of J Jayalalithaa, the late AIADMK leader. Photograph: AIADMK/Twitter

By passing a unanimous resolution urging V K Sasikala to take over the reins of the party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu has indicated that it is coming out of the shadows of its departed supremo, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, slowly but surely.

Coming as it does against the background of a series of income tax raids, going thus far up to then state chief secretary P Rama Mohan Rao, the party has simultaneously taunted the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Ever since Jayalalithaa's death, and more so since Sasikala's name began doing the rounds for the AIADMK general secretary post, many state BJP leaders have indicated their unhappiness at the move.

But as Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu indicated, the AIADMK has shown that it is a separate political entity and would take decisions according to what it felt was right and good for the party.

It was left to Jaya's successor Chief Minister O Pannerselvam to move the resolution in the party's general council, inform the media and lead a delegation of party seniors to Jaya's Poes Garden home to submit it to Sasikala there.

Then, it was also left to OPS to announce to the media that their 'Chinamma' had consented to the party's appeal.

OPS was accompanied by senior AIADMK leader and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker S Thambidurai and other leaders, whose names had figured as competing for the chief minister's post.

Indications are there that Sasikala will take over as AIADMK general secretary on an auspicious day.

At the brief Poes Garden interlude with the party delegation, Sasikala was seen wearing a green sari (but with coloured borders) -- the astrologically favourable colour for Jaya.

In those few minutes, she was also seen on camera, puffing her face with a white hankerchief, the same way Jaya used to be seen doing.

A diabetic herself, like her 'akka', Sasikala ha visibly lost weight through the latter's weeks in hospitalisation.

Even after Jaya’s funeral, Sasikala and her equally controversial family members dominated the scene -- on television and otherwise too.

On Thursday, December 29, when OPS called on Sasikala, behind her was her controversial nephew, T T V Dinakaran, who was once Jaya's 'Man Friday' in Delhi before losing her trust and being thrown out of the party.

The local media in Chennai, especially the English language press, has been referring to Sasikala by her first name, prefixed by her initials, 'V K'.

The name of Sasikala's controversial husband M Natarajan seems to have been carefully kept out.

Natarajan was said to be the brain behind a lot of Sasikala's dealings and also Jaya's political decisions.

But a time came when Jaya would repeatedly shun him from the party.

Jaya's government arrested him, more than once, sometimes on frivolous complaints.

When the AIADMK general council passed the pro-Sasikala resolution, around the same time a vacation bench of the Madras high court sent notice to the Prime Minister's Office, the Union home ministry and the Central Bureau of Investigation, apart from the Tamil Nadu government, on yet another petition, seeking to unravel the truth behind Jaya's death.

Though the court order does not have any direct link to the party per se, Justice S Vaidyanathan pooh-poohed the state government submission that the first bench, headed by Chief Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul, had dismissed similar petitions early on (before Jaya's death).

Justice Vaidyanathan observed that as a citizen, media reports had stirred doubts in his mind about an incumbent chief minister's death. Especially, since it had occurred only days after reports claiming that her condition was improving.

The court clarified that this case did not pertain to the medical treatment given to the then CM.

In doing so, the judge also observed that if the governments do not respond adequately, the court had the power to order the exhumation of the former chief minister's body.

The bench also fixed further hearing on January 9, observing that this one being a vacation court, the case may go before some other judges.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoles Sasikala at Rajaji Hall, Chennai, where Jayalalithaa's body was lying in state, December 6, 2016.
Looking on is M Natarajan, Sasikala's controversial husband who had been turned out by Jayalalithaa during her lifetime. Photograph: ANI

It is possibly a rare occasion when a high court has directly sent notice to the PMO, represented in this instance by the principal secretary.

Justice Vaidyanathan referred to the hospital visits of Tamil Nadu Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and Union ministers (Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu) when Jaya had been admitted to the Apollo hospital, and observed that the Centre was in the know of things, but has not said anything so far.

There is another case that Sasikala and the AIADMK might have to follow.

On December 23, Justice K Kalyanasundaram of the Madras high court had reserved orders on a petition filed by expelled AIADMK member and Rajya Sabha MP Sasikala Pushpa, challenging the possibilities of V K Sasikala's selection as party chief.

In the process, Sasikala P had referred to the party constitution, where a primary member for not less than continuous five years alone could contest for positions of office.

V K Sasikala was expelled from the party in 2011. But Jaya reinstated her again in 2012.

The contention is that V K Sasikala lost her AIADMK membership alongside, but the present 'leadership' seems to think otherwise.

Though Jayalalithaa had sacked Sasikala Pushpa from the party after she allegedly slapped Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Trichy Siva at the Delhi airport, the AIADMK did not move to get her 'disqualified' in the Rajya Sabha under the anti-defection law.

However, a day before the general council meeting, when Pushpa's husband Lingeswara Thilagan and others arrived at the AIADMK party headquarters to submit nomination papers for the post of general secretary, AIADMK cadres beat them up badly.

It is thus not unlikely that he might now challenge the denial of opportunity for him to contest the party polls.

But more immediate concern to the AIADMK, and possibly to leader-elect Sasikala could be the legal fallout of the tax raids.

If media reports are to be believed, the raids could lead up to Poes Garden (Sasikala now lives there after Jaya's death), and to some senior ministers, possibly including Pannerselvam.

Controversial Tamil magazine Nakkeeran cited from what it claimed was an extract from an IT internal note from April/May, following the poll-time tax-raids on Karur Anbunathan, and the post-poll follow-up raid on ex-minister Natham Viswanathan.

The turn of events leading up to the 'Rao raids' just now seems to be a replay of the Nakkeeran reports, with more to follow, if the magazine had got it all right.

If anyone wants to link the Rao raids to the internal affairs of the AIADMK, and the pending probability of Sasikala's elevation, then it should be a message to the ruling BJP at the Centre that they are all as united now as they were when their Amma was around.

At one level, post-raids, Sasikala needs the party possibly more than the other way round. But post-Jaya it cannot be said that there is none around to keep the party united whatever Sasikala's qualifications.

It may be true that Sasikala's future elevation as chief minister in the place of OPS may be linked to the pending Supreme Court decision in the disproportionate assets case in which Jaya was the first accused.

It is only then -- as some BJP acolytes have been arguing -- that OPS would have to take a decision about his future as chief minister.

OPS too has started acting firmly against the Centre.

After yielding to the Centre's long-pending proposals on GST, Ennore-Port national highway and a few other projects, the Panneerselvam government has come down heavily on the former's position on land requisition and acquisition.

In a less-reported regional meet, organised by the Centre in Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram, Tamil Nadu Forest Minister Dindigul C Srinivasan criticised the Centre using the instrument of 'special purpose vehicles' to implement joint projects to pass on the burden to the states.

Reading out Panneerselvam's speech, Srinivasan pointed out how states were expected to donate land to central projects, but the latter would not release defence lands for state projects easily and without payment.

The current message (to the BJP) seems to be that no central government tax raid or even court verdicts can stop the AIADMK to select and elect a party chief of their choice.

As for inner-party resentment against Sasikala's elevation, the Dravidian political precedence has been for such 'rebels to sink into oblivion.

The Congress as the ruling party at the Centre had burnt its fingers in 'Dravidian' Tamil Nadu, assuming that there was a vacuum to be filled, first after the 1972 split in the ruling DMK, and later on when breakaway AIADMK supremo and then chief minister M G Ramachandran passed away in 1987.

It is another matter that Sasikala and many of her family members have seen it all and there is nothing much that could upset them personally.

Many of them, including Sasikala and husband Natarajan, have been to prison, faced a number of court cases, including those prosecuted by the IT department, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI.

In Jaya's company, they have also learnt the art of extreme patience, be it in politics or in legal matters. They have learnt how it all had rewarded Jaya handsomely, time and again.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

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