The Post-Truth Takeover

India Today - - COVER STORY - —The writer is ex-ed­i­tor, In­dia To­day Tamil edi­tion, and au­thor of Amma: Jay­alalithaa’s Jour­ney from Movie Star to Po­lit­i­cal Queen

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

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