The Post-Truth Takeover
Jayalalithaa had declared that she was her udanpiravaa
sagothari (sister), though not born from the same womb. She would not have perhaps imagined that Sasikala, a woman of humble beginnings from the small town of Mannargudi, who entered Poes Garden 30 years ago to take “care of her and run her house”, would, after her death, don her political mantle—as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu—to run a state of nearly 70 million people.
Jayalalithaa would have least imagined that her friend would be unanimously chosen by the AIADMK’s MLAs and ministers as the natural successor. Partymen who were once very critical of her, jealous of her closeness to their thalaivi and suspected that she had emerged as an extraconstitutional power centre; they who had attributed the humiliating defeat of the party in the 1996 assembly elections to the excesses committed by Sasikala and her entourage that resided in Poes Garden; they who believed that all the corruption charges Amma was saddled with were because of her association with Sasikala.
Jayalalithaa may have wondered why O. Panneerselvam—OPS, the humble loyalist, and an elected member of the legislature, to whom she had always entrusted the job of carrying on the duties of the chief minister in her absence and who was indeed performing his role now surprisingly well— would abdicate in favour of Sasikala? Hadn’t she said often, after the ’96 defeat when there was widespread discontent against her friend—“Sasikala never functioned as an extraconstitutional power centre. Calling her a de facto chief minister is just nonsense. She is not interested in politics and I had no intention of bringing her into politics?”
It may not have been Jayalalithaa’s intention, but Sasikala Natarajan is now neckdeep in politics—like a natural evolution from “taking care of Poes Garden” to taking care of the party nurtured by her mentor “to shatter the expectations of the political opponents that there will be a split in the party after the demise of our Amma”. The fact is 2017 is different from 1996. With the party having a mandate to rule for fouranda halfyears more, the concerns of 134 members of the legislature need not be the wish of the 10 million members of the party. They are beholden to her—most of them were handpicked by her and given tickets— and perhaps feel more comfortable creating a female icon than dealing with a nononsense administrator and politician who was applauded even by the opposition. Now that Amma, the invincible, is no more, mass mobilisation is possible only through the welltested strategy followed by Dravidian politics—glorify the leader to abnormal levels to sustain the cadres’ motivation. The relationship between Jayalalithaa
and Sasikala, and the possible hold of the latter on the former, had not only been a mystery but also contentious, responsible for much resentment among the oncefaithful supporters of Jayalalithaa.
Perhaps there was something in Sasikala that made Jayalalithaa trust her; enough to entrust the responsibility of mundane chores of the house that she had always been bored with. She had longed for a normal home life. A word of concern, of care, of love uttered at the right time may have quenched the long thirst for company and warmth that she inwardly longed for from childhood. When Sasikala began to live with her, there was a friend who listened to her woes with sympathy, who did not question her actions, who did not argue with her, would not advise her on matters of the state. “It was therefore annoying when people said that Sasikala was behind my many political decisions. It was not only an insult to me as chief minister but also utter rubbish,” Jayalalithaa said in an interview.
Jayalalithaa first met Sasikala in 1984. She met her husband after two years. In her own words, “After MGR’s death, I went through a very traumatic phase and I had no one at home here to help me. At that time, Sasikala and Natarajan offered to help. They both came to live here. But very soon, Natarajan overstepped his limits. So I asked him to leave my house in 1990. But Sasikala opted to stay with me. This was one full year before I became the chief minister. Sasikala has sacrificed her whole life in order to be with me. In fact, there was an occasion when she saved my life.”
Strange that Jayalalithaa could be as naïve as to think that Sasikala would remain incommunicado with her husband living in the same town just because Jayalalithaa asked him
Sasikala walks, waves, smiles and dresses just like Jayalalithaa now
to get lost. The rumour mill started a malicious spin about her relationship with Sasikala. When asked about this by Simi Garewal in her chat show, Jayalalithaa said she just ignored such stupid allegations.
After Sasikala entered her life, most of those who had been close to her drifted away. It had become all too evident that Sasikala’s relatives, popularly known as the Mannargudi Mafia, were increasingly dominant and controlling her movements as well as her visitors and phone calls.
Six months after a landslide win in 2011, Jayalalithaa expelled Sasikala and her 12 relatives from the AIADMK. She seemed to have been angry that the list of AIADMK candidates for the assembly was leaked. It was suspected that Sasikala’s relatives were responsible.
Sasikala, however, was welcomed back after she wrote a letter of apology and said she would distance herself from her relatives. She remained with Jayalalithaa from then on, was indicted along with her in the disproportionate assets case in a Karnataka special court; acquitted by the high court later and is now awaiting the pending verdict from the Supreme Court, where the case went for an appeal by the DMK and the Karnataka government against the acquittal. She was in the hospital by Amma’s side for 75 days and managed her funeral with amazing calm.
Sasikala walks, waves, smiles, dresses like Jayalalithaa, and partymen keep her photograph in their pockets. Like Amma, they hope she will be their saviour. They forget Sasikala always took the back seat of Amma’s Toyota Prado and has never faced the electorate.
IN REMEMBRANCE An emotional Sasikala at the India Today Conclave South in Chennai on Jan. 9