NEW DELHI: In a sudden and unexpected decision on Wednesday, former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala announced that she was withdrawing from politics.
The development took all by surprise because after she was released from jail in January, Sasikala had made it explicit that she would play an active role in state politics.
In her two-page letter, Sasikala, fondly called “Chinnamma” by her supporters, asked all the true supporters of Jayalalithaa to prevent “common enemy” DMK from coming to power in the forthcoming assembly elections and ensure “Amma’s golden rule in Tamil Nadu”. Jayalalithaa was “Amma” for her supporters.
Sasikala’s retirement from politics is likely to impact Tamil Nadu politics and the assembly elections to be held on April 6.
Relief for ruling AIADMK
The ruling AIADMK would certainly heave a sigh of relief on Sasikala quitting politics as it would stop the split of party votes.
After Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, Sasikala sought to play a prominent role in AIADMK. O Panneerselvam, who was considered close to Jayalalithaa, was made the acting chief minister. However, in a power struggle with Sasikala, he was replaced by her loyalist Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS).
Panneerselvam, also called OPS, rebelled against Sasikala and EPS. In the floor test that ensued, OPS lost to EPS.
Subsequently, a rapprochement took place between chief minister Palaniswami and Panneerselvam with the latter being made the deputy chief minister.
In February 2017. Sasikala was convicted in the Rs 66.65-crore disproportionate assets case and was jailed for four years. She was expelled from AIADMK in September 2017.
On her release from the Parappana Agrahara central jail in Bengaluru on January 27, she entered Chennai on February 8. Her release made the AIADMK government jittery. It took a number of steps to check Sasikala much before she was even released from the prison.
The Palaniswami government got an ordinance promulgated in May last year to temporarily take over Veda Nilayam, the residence of Jayalalithaa in Poes Garden, Chennai. It also decided to establish a foundation to turn Veda Nilayam into a memorial. This was apparently to avert any chances of Sasikala or Jayalalithaa’s kin claiming possession of the house.
A day after Sasikala was released from prison, Palaniswami inaugurated the memorial house in the presence of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam, cabinet colleagues and senior AIADMK leaders. Before Sasikala’s entry, heavy security was deployed and CCTV cameras were installed not just around Veda Nilayam but also in AIADMK’s office on Avvai Shanmugam Salai in Chennai.
Soon after Sasikala was released from prison on January 27, and shifted to a resort near the Karnataka capital, the Chennai collectorate issued orders to confiscate the properties of her kin J Ilavarasi and VN Sudhakaran in the disproportionate assets case.
On the other hand, the AIADMK leadership even took action against its partymen for supporting Sasikala. It removed its Karnataka secretary MP Yuvaraj for planning to meet her.
Earlier, the AIADMK sacked several functionaries for putting up posters welcoming Sasikala.
The AIADMK also lodged police complaints against Sasikala for using the party flag. Accordingly, the Tamil Nadu police prohibited more than five cars in her convoy and asked her not to use the party flag on her car.
However, Sasikala ignored the police orders while she crossed over to Tamil Nadu from Karnataka on February 8. Her cars did have the AIADMK flag and there were about 200 cars in her convoy.
On reaching Chennai, she categorically said she would get back to politics and start meeting people soon. She reiterated her plan even on Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary celebrations on February 24.
Her active involvement in politics was sure to harm AIADMK as its votes would have got divided between it and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran’s party AMMK.
But now with Sasikala bidding adieu to politics, the prospects of AIADMK’s votes getting split have diminished.
Good for BJP
The BJP has stitched an alliance with AIADMK for the assembly polls. A weak AIADMK would have gone against the interests of the BJP.
However, the position of AIADMK has improved with Sasikala’s departure from politics. No wonder the BJP welcomed her decision. BJP leader Srinivasan welcomed her move.
Jolt to DMK
The main opposition DMK, which is hoping to come back to power, may receive a jolt with Sasikala’s decision.
The party, led by former chief minister K Karunanidhi’s son Stalin would have benefitted from division of votes between AIADMK and AMMK. However, a consolidation of votes would go against it.
Setback for Dhinakaran
Dhinakaran was hoping to harm the prospects of AIADMK as much as he could.
In the bypoll for RK Nagar constituency after Jayalalithaa’s death, Dhinakarn defeated both the AIADMK and DMK candidates in December 2017, while Sasikala was in jail. In March 2018, he launched his own party, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, AMMK bagged a vote share of more than 4 per cent.
Dhinakaran had said that AMMK would lead a third front in the April assembly elections. He had also said that AMMK was holding negotiations with other important parties and the names of candidates would be announced on March 10.
After Sasikala announced her decision to quit politics, Dhinakaran said he tried to convince her for half-an-hour but she was firm in her decision. The development comes as a jolt to him personally.