Thousands filed past J Jayalalithaa’s body on Tuesday, but it was the presence of Sasikala Natarajan and her family members in the city’s Rajaji Hall, where the former chief minister lay in state, that set off the most speculations.
While Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s closest confidante for more than two decades, stood in silent vigil beside the body kept in an open area above the steps, her relatives circled around even as crowds jostled for space. They included her brother Dhivaharan, sister-in-law and sons-in-law of her brother.
Incidentally, Jayalalithaa’s niece, Deepa Jayakumar, finally got to see her powerful aunt — to pay tribute — after having not been allowed to meet her at Apollo Hospitals twice in the last 74 days.
The large presence of Sasikala’s kin evoked both awe and derision. “Look at all the people out there on the stage, they will all stick together for the sake of power for the next four and a half years,” said an AIADMK functionary. His barb was directed at the party’s ministers and MLAs as well as Sasikala. In public perception, it will take considerable effort to keep the party together in the true sense now.
Several of those filing past were more caustic. “What do we know about Sasikala? Amma should not have taken Sasikala back. She cheated and backstabbed her,” said Roopa, a party worker, referring to fallouts and reconciliations between the two.
Watch | Huge crowd at Jayalalithaa’s funeral procession in Chennai
Many lower level leaders seemed unconvinced about Sasikala’s leadership potential. But many of them were guarded in their reactions. “They are the deciding authority. I cannot say anything about her,” said AK Murugan, one of the district secretaries of AIADMK in Chennai, referring to Sasikala’s family.
Thangaraj, an AIADMK activist from Salem, said, “She (Sasikala) was bad for her (Jayalalithaa). She did not take good care. I don’t know what will happen to the party if she takes over.”.
Talk of which member of Sasikala’s family would get what of Jayalalithaa’s property also did the rounds, much to the annoyance of people coming in to pay respect to the departed leader. “This is not the time for such talk,” said Sakthivel, a Jayalalithaa admirer.