She will remain Chinnamma or mom’s younger sister, never the Amma or mother she strives to be, said an AIADMK leader on Tuesday, revealing the undercurrent against VK Sasikala, the jailed general secretary of Tamil Nadu’s ruling party.
The 61-year-old Sasikala — a long-time confidante of former AIADMK supremo and chief minister J Jayalalithaa — is serving a four-year jail term for amassing ill-gotten wealth.
But she still wields power by proxy in Tamil Nadu through her extended clan, which her rivals call the Mannargudi Mafia. She appointed nephew TTV Dinakaran as her deputy, and loyalist Edapaddi Palaniswami as chief minister before she went to jail.
Born in Mannargudi, about 320km south of Chennai, and married to a lowly-paid public relations officer, Sasikala’s life changed when Jayalalithaa took her under her wings and she moved into the leader’s Poes Garden home, a nerve-centre of power in the southern state.
She primarily managed the household of Jayalalithaa, called Amma by her supporters. But detractors accuse her of being much more than a housekeeper, as her relatives, who moved out of Mannargudi, began exerting influence on police, bureaucracy and businesses.
Jayalalithaa, a yesteryear matinee idol with a cult following in Tamil Nadu, threw her out in 2011, but took her back after a brief exile. She remained the AIADMK’s leader’s so-called conscience keeper until her death last December.
The death triggered a bitter power struggle and split the party as Chinnamma, as Sasikala is called, tried to step into Amma’s shoes.
The mutiny of ousted chief minister O Panneerselvam, who held the top post briefly after Jayalalithaa’s death, was crushed. But her conviction in the corruption case changed the dynamics.
“Her greed, impatience and lust for power brought her downfall,” said an AIADMK leader, who didn’t wish to be named.
Another revolt is now brewing against Sasikala and her family as ministers and lawmakers from her faction are pushing for a merger of the two groups.
The first signs of trouble were visible when chief minister Palaniswami sat over Sasikala’s recommendations for bureaucratic postings and transfers. He stonewalled demands of Dinakaran, the party’s deputy general secretary, for an inquiry into corruption allegations against Panneerselvam.
“Sasikala should have been the power behind the throne. Had she allowed OPS (Panneerselvam) to continue and kept the real power to herself, it would have been smooth,” another party leader said.
“Her greed and impatience to grab the chief minister’s chair did not go down well with the people, in whose perception she was seen as the villain who did harm to their beloved Amma.”
People’s anger increased when the ruling faction was accused of bribing voters in the now-countermanded by-election to the RK Nagar seat in Chennai, where Sasikala has fielded nephew Dinakaran. Opinion polls showed he was behind the OPS’s candidate, E Madhusudhanan.
Then again, Dinakaran was in more trouble as Delhi Police filed an FIR against him on Sunday for trying to bride Election Commission officials over the AIADMK’s frozen poll symbol — two leaves — that both factions were staking claim to.
The clan’s overreach is being questioned and speculation swirled that Sasikala might make her nephew the chief minister if he wins the bypoll.
Chief minister Palaniswami’s refusal to obey Sasikala’s diktats is now viewed as his attempt to building his defences against any possible ouster. He entrusted some of trusted colleagues to initiate merger talks with the OPS camp, apparently against the wishes of Sasikala and Dinakaran.
Panneerselvam too has vowed to free the state from the clutches of Sasikala and her family.
But political analyst Ramu Manivannan of Madras University said it would not be easy to get rid of Sasikala’s clout because the Mannargudi Mafia has penetrated almost every layer of government and police over the years.