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The tough road ahead for Sasikala

By R Rajagopalan
February 06, 2017 15:09 IST
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Sasikala may be set to take over the reins of Tamil Nadu, yet she faces a period of immense turbulence. R Rajagopalan reports.

Jayalalithaa's close aide V K Sasikala, who had been appointed as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's general secretary after the former's demise, was on Sunday elevated as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

So far, Sasikala had remained in the shadows of the Poes Garden (official residence of late Jayalalithaa in Chennai). Now, all eyes are upon her to come to the forefront and deliver. 

Here are some of the hurdles that Chinnamma, as Sasikala is referred to locally, would have to overcome soon:

* The Supreme Court is expected to deliver the verdict in Jayalalithaa's disproportionate assets case next week in which Sasikala is accused number two. A negative verdict could cut short her chief ministership. If she does overcome the legal battle, she then has to work in tandem with the state bureaucracy to manage security threats posed by the elements linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, some of whom still operate in the state under the garb of social and cultural outfits.

* Sasikala has to present the state Budget in a week's time. To ensure access to central funds for Tamil Nadu, she will have to keep the BJP government at the Centre happy.

* She will have to immediately take steps to address the drought situation in the state. Tamil Nadu government had in January declared all districts of the state drought-hit following a deficit in the northeast monsoon last year. Her predecessor, O Panneerselvam had announced several schemes for farmers, including waiver in land tax.

* Then comes the threat from the Gounder community. During her lifetime, Jayalalithaa had managed to keep under check two of the four caste groups -- the Thevars and the Gounders (the other two being the Vanniyars and the Dalits) -- in the state. With fissures already emerging, it is a matter of time when the Gounders could create headaches for Sasikala, given that both the chief minister and the party are from the Thevar community. There are 16 sub-castes which dominate Tamil Nadu politics. Sasikala has to strike a balance with these communities before she turns around for support from minorities like Muslims and Christians, who dominate 20 per cent of Tamil population.

* One of Sasikala's priorities would be to ensure that her close relatives, around 20-25, do not get anywhere near to the Secretariat. These relatives had, on the day of Jayalalitha death, surrounded the AIADMK supremo's dead body and ensured that Sasikala takes over the party and the government without any glitches.

* One of the toughest challenges that Sasikala would encounter is from the principal opposition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. With Karunanidhi now handing over the party's reins to his son, M K Stalin, the DMK, which has 90 MLAs in the state assembly, could be breathing fire down her throat on issues like recent police action during the Jallikattu agitation and corruption.

Sasikala lacks the charisma that Jayalalithaa possessed. Many in the state are not quite convinced that she will render the best administration.

A glimpse of this sentiment was visible all over social media on Sunday when the AIADMK legislature party elected her as chief minister.

According to reports, women voters who have voted for Jayalalithaa are especially abusive of Sasikala for grabbing power.

For now, the 134 AIADMK MLAs are united.

With another four years to go before the next assembly elections in the state, one wonders if Sasikala would be able to keep her flock intact. But the bigger question here is whether she would be able to prove her worth to the party's cadre.

Either way, Tamil Nadu is entering into an interesting political phase.

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R Rajagopalan