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After Amma, all eyes on Sasikala Natarajan and her Mannargudi family

Sasikala Natarajan was by Jayalalithaa’s side for 22 years, as a close friend, aide, and confidant. After Amma, she could be the next power centre in Tamil Nadu politics.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2016 23:51 IST
Aditya Iyer
Sasikala Natarajan was by Jayalalithaa’s side for 22 years, as a close friend, aide, and confidant. After Amma, she could be the next power centre in Tamil Nadu politics.
Sasikala Natarajan was by Jayalalithaa’s side for 22 years, as a close friend, aide, and confidant. After Amma, she could be the next power centre in Tamil Nadu politics.(AP file photo)

As the body of Jayalalithaa lay in state in a public hall in Chennai on Tuesday, no one among the thousands of mourners was surprised to see Sasikala Natarajan standing by the flower-bedecked casket. After all, Sasikala was by Jayalalithaa’s side for 22 years, as a close friend, aide, and confidant.

What did raise eyebrows, however, was other people sharing the dias with Sasikala, a group despised by Jayalalithaa when she was alive. A group derisively known as the “Mannargudi mafia” among AIADMK cadres.

While some in the AIADMK brushed it off as being no more than support for Sasikala in her time of need, others pointed out the fact that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was not introduced to the new chief minister O Pannerselvam, but instead to her husband Natarajan.

Also telling was that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked in to Rajaji Hall, he comforted Panneerselvam and then Sasikala, a woman who holds no formal position of leadership in the party.

In 2012, Sasikala was expelled from the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa for keeping in touch with her family, whom the CM believed were conspiring against her.

Exactly 100 days later, Sasikala was back in Poes Garden – the official residence of Jayalalithaa -- back in the party, and back in the good graces of Amma.

Read | Party circles abuzz as Sasikala meets CM Panneerselvam, key ministers

“Only after coming out of Poes Garden, I became aware of the machinations of my relatives who have misused my proximity and brought disrepute to akka and the party. I have no role whatsoever in that. Hereafter, any relative, whosoever it might be, who had conspired against akka, will remain a persona non-grata for me as well,” is what she had written in a public letter aired on Jaya TV, a TV channel owned by the former chief minister.

These “persona non grata” are seemingly calling the shots now. At the sidelines of Jayalalithaa’s burial ceremony on a balmy Chennai evening, Natarajan spoke about how the legacy of Amma and MGR would “be carried forward”.

The question is, who will do that carrying on.

Party legislators, including OPS, assembled at Poes Garden on Thursday for a meeting chaired by Sasikala, and the discussions were believed to be about the general secretary elections, traditionally held in December.

Rumours abound of Sasikala eyeing the top spot, especially as she is still named in a disproportionate assets case which plagued Jayalalithaa for two decades.

But there are also another important issue: will party cadres, many of whom booed and shouted obscenities at Sasikala during the Jayalalithaa’s burial, allow her and the family to steer the AIADMK.

A poster, saying “Ammavin porkala atchiyai neengal todara vendum” (You must continue the golden rule of Amma), was plastered near the entrance to Poes Garden on Thursday morning by a supporter of Sasikala.

It now hangs in tatters.

Read | Sasikala Natarajan: Jayalalithaa’s close aide, the power behind the throne

THE POWER CENTRES: SASIKALA AND HER EXTENDED FAMILY

Vivekanandam and Krishnaveni – Sasikala’s father and mother. They are Mukkulathors, an influential sub-caste of the even more influential Thevar caste.

Sasikala Natarajan – close aide and confidante to J Jayalalithaa since late 1980s. Was briefly expelled from the party in 2012.

M Natarajan – Sasikala’s husband. Despised by Jayalalithaa, Natarajan has returned to the spotlight. He had introduced his wife to the then as yet politically-unknown Jayalalithaa when he was a government spokesperson.

Sundaravadanam, Jayaraman, Dr Vinodhagan, V Dhivaharan – Sasikala’s brothers. Sundaravadanam’s son-in-law, Dr Sivakumar, is known to have helped oversee Jaya’s treatment. Dhivaharan, one of the most influential businessmen in the Cauvery delta region of TN, is a power centre and known as ‘The Boss’ in Mannargudi. Jayaraman is dead, but his wife, Ilavarasi, was also living in Poes Garden.

Vanithamani – Sasikalas sister. Her son, Sudhakaran, was Jaya’s foster son, whose lavish wedding in 1995 created controversy and an investigation that landed Jaya in prison. He was on the dais on Tuesday, though he did not participate in any of the rituals.

RP Ravanan – The son-in-law of one of Sasikala’s uncles, Ravanan is responsible for the Kodunadu estate as well as other real-estate holdings.