Within just nine months of the death of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, her ‘soul sister’ and companion VK Sasikala, who heads the dreaded and controversial Mannargudi family, stands completely defanged in a bloodless political coup engineered by the BJP from Delhi.
Sasikala and her family are well entrenched in many fields and have a finger in many pies in Tamil Nadu.
Sasikala was built up as Chinnamma by her within minutes of the demise of Amma, plastering the entire state with giant size cutouts and posters in a show of the power that she wielded in the party and the government. Slogans began to make her the chief minister as well, but she wanted a person to hold temporary charge till she came out of mourning and O Panneerselvam was the choice, as he was Amma’s trusted aide.
But, clearly he was not Sasikala’s choice and so she began making moves to replace him with herself. It was then that the docile OPS revolted with his by now famous 45minute meditation at Jayalalithaa memorial and plunged the party into a political turmoil which still is continuing in the state. But his revolt surely brought out her greed to capture power at any cost, something that did not go down well with the people of Tamil Nadu.
Fortunately, a day before she was hoping to take oath as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court convicted her in the 20-year-old disproportionate assets case and sent her to four years in prison at Parappana Agrahara central jail in Bengaluru in February this year. Minutes before going to jail, she nominated her nephew TTV Dinakaran as deputy general secretary to run the party and the government on her behalf, through chief minister Edapaddi Palanisami.
Jail was no deterrent for this powerful lady or her family members. She was running the party and the state from within the confines of the prison. But her downfall was being plotted in Tamil Nadu by OPS and EPS, with help from the central government and the BJP, which was eyeing the 50 members the AIADMK has in the Parliament. Cabinet berths was a carrot dangled to the AIADMK, for merger of two factions that the party split into after the revolt by OPS.
The politics that unfolded in the AIADMK that split into two factions – one headed by Sasikala and the other by Jayalalithaa loyalist and former chief minister O Panneerselvam – scripted by the top BJP leadership – created instability in the government as Dinakaran visualised a threat to the family’s position. So he tried his best to scuttle the merger of the two factions as was being sought by the BJP.
Enter RSS ideologue and Tughlak editor S Gurumurthy who brokered peace between the two warring factions of AIADMK that essentially wanted to oust Sasikala and Dinakaran from the scheme of things in Tamil Nadu.
To cut a long story short, in a wellcoordinated and planned operation, the BJP leadership inspired and influenced the politics in the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and began running the state remotely. A political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan could not help but admire the fact that the BJP was ruling Tamil Nadu without having even a single member in the state assembly. “Not even Mrs Indira Gandhi could achieve this kind of influence over political forces opposed to her,” concurred another political analyst in Chennai who preferred to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons.
Now coming out of Parappana Agrahara prison that Sasikala was enjoying a luxurious life in jail and was in fact running the state and AIADMK from there perturbed the right-thinking people in the state, but the fear that the very mention of Mannargudi family is taking time to die in the state.
It was as if that “business as usual” given easy access to Sasikala for her manFriday and preferred her nephew TTV Dinakaran to run it and eventually replace chief minister Edapaddi Palanisami, who began to distance himself from the Mannargudi family, with some help and encouragement from Delhi.
It can only happen in Tamil Nadu, where real life was reflecting the reel life and it was perfectly normal in a state where three of the five chief ministers came from the film world. The life and times of Sasikala, her humble beginning as a video cassette renting shop owner to lording over the affairs of the state and party, through her closeness to Jayalalithaa, and her sure-shot elevation as the chief minister herself before the Supreme Court scuttled her political designs by sending her to jail in a corruption case.
Her life presents the film-makers a riveting politico-crime thriller and if we add the elements of her business empire, worth thousands of crores of rupees with interests in films, liquor and media, you have the complete road map of her journey. She had come within a whisker of becoming the chief minister but jailed at the proverbial eleventh hour. But even from the jail, she was controlling the party and the government – till operation defang Sasikala began in the right earnest.
Trouble began for her and her family when her chosen appointee Edapaddi Palanisami began distancing himself from the Mannargudi family and refused to take orders. Which was when her nephew Dinakaran made moves to replace him – but by then EPS consolidated his position quietly amid talks of merger with the former chief minister O Panneerselvam.
It is very clear that OPS had the backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even when he was Tamil Nadu chief minister but also even after he revolted against Sasikala. In fact, acting TN governor C Vidyasagar Rao gave enough time to Panneerselvam to cobble up a majority so that Sasikalacontrolled government could be brought down. But clearly, OPS failed and it led to an official split in the AIADMK, with the controlling interest in the hands of Sasikala through Dinakaran.
The central government, that supported OPS, persisted in its efforts and tried another route to isolate the Mannargudi family and pushed the two warring AIADMK factions to merge. And kick out Sasikala from the party.
Bolstered by the tacit support from the ruling party at the Centre, the two factions merged and gathered courage to oust Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran from all party posts. In fact, a general council meeting of the party made the general secretary post “reserved” for Amma declaring Jayalalithaa as the ‘eternal general secretary’ of the party. Dumped by the party, Dinakaran is leading a ginger group of 18 MLAs and working tirelessly to bring down the government to ‘teach the traitors – EPS and OPS –a lesson.
And in this, Dinakaran and his aunt Sasikala seem to have no compunction in taking the help of principal opponent, the DMK. Whispers in Chennai hint at a secret agreement between Dinakaran and the relative of a top DMK leader to fell the government.
The game plan to topple the Tamil Nadu government, which is fighting with its back to the wall, only goes to show the tenacity and audacity of the Mannargudi family to safeguard its political interests, which in turn will protest their business interests.
SaSikala’S fortuneS roSe along with Jayalalithaa and She became all powerful becauSe She controlled acceSS to her and alSo had her ear
A cursory look at Sasikala’s journey from the Thiruthuraipoondi, a village near a small town of Mannargudi in East Tamil Nadu near Thanjavur: It was her marriage to a PRO in government in 1975 that brought her to Chennai. It was her husband M Natarajan who introduced her to Jayalalithaa for assisting her in video recordings of her speeches as the propaganda secretary of AIADMK. Soon, she became close to Jayalalithaa and became her companion and moved into her Poes Garden residence. Sasikala just lived there and after Jayalalithaa’s death continued to live there as if it was her own.
Naturally, Sasikala’s fortunes rose along with Jayalalithaa and she became all powerful because she controlled access to Jayalalithaa and also had her ear. Slowly, one by one, Sasikala’s relatives began to arrive in Chennai and began exerting influence in all spheres – politics, police, bureaucracy, business and films. Sasikala’s personal and her family’s fortunes changed dramatically from this point. Along the way, the family members also attracted several criminal cases against them.
One of Sasikala’s political rivals from the Congress in Tamil Nadu, EVKS Elangovan, describes Sasikala as a female don.
Sasikala carefully plotted her succession after Jayalalithaa’s death, after prolonged illness at Apollo Hospital on December 5, 2016. She had used the time of her hospitalisation to mobilise her family members, all of whom were banned by Jayalalithaa, to help her cement her place within the party and accepted as party chief. At Jayalalithaa’s funeral, all the relatives of Sasikala pushed out everyone else and took complete charge of Jayalalithaa’s body, property and political party – the AIADMK.
After making OPS as a stopgap chief minister, Sasikala decided to replace him by herself. It was then that OPS revolted after his by now famous 45-minute meditation at Amma’s memorial at Marina beach in February this year.
She wanted to become the CM herself, but could not, due to SC verdict. So she made her nephew Dinakaran as her deputy in the party to run it on her behalf. Sasikala continued to receive party leaders in jail and issued instructions and directions on party and government matters.
Can a prison with bricks and mortar and iron grills ‘check’ the power-wielding don and her penchant to rule Tamil Nadu from within the jail?
Tamil Nadu ministers made spectacle of themselves, waiting outside the prison for meeting Chinnamma.
She used to have access to the Jail Superintendent’s office to hold meetings with partymen and ministers. As per the report of DIG Roopa, Sasikala had access to five rooms, a meeting place and allowed several visitors, in clear violation of prison rules. Stung by the expose that showed the Karnataka government in poor light, it has named a senior government official to probe the issue and come out with a report.
But it was the police officer who was shunted out. This is how a powerful jail inmate got a nosey jailer transferred out. And this is the stuff the films are made of.
But as a senior and influential RSS thinker based in Delhi and hailing from Tamil Nadu predicted “Mannargudi family will be finished”, things appear to be moving in that direction in Tamil Nadu. But it is still a long battle for the government and the AIADMK politicians to shrug off and escape from the vice-like grip of the family, some of whose family members have invested in AIADMK politicians. Many MLAs owe their political existence to Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran, so for them it will be a very tough choice to make, explained a senior AIADMK leader.
FROM A VILLAGE TO POES GARDEN
Hailing from Thiruthuraipoondi village in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, VK Sasikala was born into a modest family in 1957. The 60-year-old former AIADMK general secretary belongs to the powerful Thevar community. Her father,a petty businessman, shifted base to a small town neighbouring their village – Mannargudi –where Sasikala went to school and college nut never completed her degree.
After her marriage to a TN government PRO, M Natarajan in the early 1980s, she moved to Chennai where she ran a video rental agency from a 10X12 shop in Bheemanna Garden Street of Alwarpet colony.
Her husband working in the public relations department introduced her to Jayalalithaa through an IAS officer. Her first assignment was to shoot movies in video cassettes for Jayalalithaa who was the propaganda secretary of AIADMK by then. Slowly, Sasikala got closer to Jayalalithaa and moved into her Poes Garden residence. She then brought lot of her relatives and people from Mannargudi and placed them inside the house for doing different chores and ran the Jayalalithaa household. Soon, she became the most important person in Jayalalithaa’s life and became her soul sister.
Sasikala’s clout grew once Jayalalithaa became the chief minister and the lady from Mannargudi became the real power behind the throne.
Jab se (from the time) Sasikala met Jayalalithaa
Sasikala stuck to Jayalalithaa through thick and thin and was targeted by the DMK government along with Jayalalithaa and was a co-accused in the disproportionate assets case that stemmed out of the obscenely opulent marriage Jayalalithaa conducted for her foster son,VN Sudhakaran, in the early 1990s.
It was in this case, filed in 1996 when DMK came to power, that Sasikala was convicted and sentenced for four years. Jayalalithaa escaped sentencing as she died just before the judgment came out in February this year.
Sasikala was arrested along with Jayalalithaa on December 7, 1996 and sent to jail for a month in connection with a corruption case. During Jayalalithaa’s three tenures as chief minister, Sasikala was alleged to have laundered huge amounts of wealth amassed by Jayalalithaa. On February 14, 2017, a twojudge bench of the Supreme Court pronounced her guilty and ordered her immediate arrest in a disproportionate assets case, effectively ending her chief ministerial ambitions.
Sasikala’s relationship with Jayalalithaa had its downs as well. Once Jayalalithaa realised that her companion had acquired lot of power and amassed wealth, she banished Sasikala and 12 of her relatives from her Poes Garden residence in December 2011. She also expelled Sasikala, her husband, her nephew TTV Dinakaran and nine other relatives from the primary membership of the AIADMK.
But later, in March 2012, Jayalalithaa relented and allowed Sasikala to return to her Poes Garden residence to run her household after she apologised in writing and gave an undertaking that she would not interfere in either party or government affairs. She also revoked her suspension from the party. But Sasikala was also to maintain distance from her husband, whom Jayalalithaa had got arrested in a case and jailed him for few months.
In a meeting held on December 29, 2016, the first after Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, 2016, Sasikala was appointed the general secretary. She was also elected leaderof the AIADMK legislative party on February 5 to replace chief minister O Panneerselvam when the Supreme Court judgment on February 14 killed her chief ministerial ambitions. Tamil Nadu acting governor Krishnasagar Rao resisted all pressure from Sasikala for swearing in, even for a day, before the judgment. And since her conviction, she is lodged at the Bengaluru prison.