It was a study in contrast. On Sunday, after VK Sasikala was named the legislative leader of the AIADMK at the party headquarters in Royapettah, ministers and MLAs inside the building began to cheer. The mood outside, among party cadre and curious onlookers, was more muted.
“OPS (O Panneerselvam) may not have been a fierce leader, but this one (Sasikala) is going to be worse,” says Mutharalingam (surname withheld on request), an AIADMK supporter since 1991. “But what can the common man do except go along with this decision?” the 42-year-old asks sadly.
To say that Sasikala is a divisive figure would be an understatement. Many political experts attribute her unpopularity to her family, derisively known as the “Mannargudi Mafia,” and the allegations surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death.
Some leaders have questioned the secrecy over the circumstances around Jayalalithaa’s death. Some have even alleged foul play. The charismatic Tamil Nadu chief minister died in December after complications following a cardiac arrest
Political rivals have already dismissed Sasikala’s elevation as the CM-designate. DMK working president MK Stalin said her elevation to the post of chief minister goes against the will of the people.
“The people voted for a government to be run by Jayalalithaa in May 2016, not Panneerselvam or anyone from her household to be CM,” the leader of the Opposition said in a snide reference to Sasikala, who had been the closest aide of the late leader for three decades.
Prior to being appointed AIADMK general secretary in December, Sasikala held no formal post in the ruling party.
On the political front, Sasikala’s immediate challenge will be to win an assembly seat in six months, as required under the Constitution. One senior AIADMK leader said she should contest from RK Nagar, the late Jayalalithaa’s constituency, so as to cement her claim to the powerful chief minister’s legacy.
He also pointed out that Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s niece, had expressed interest in contesting from that seat.
While RK Nagar is currently the only constituency that is vacant, it is unlikely that Sasikala would contest from there, owing to the deep-seated resentment against her emerging from the North Chennai area. Deepa Jayakumar could aggravate the bitterness, posing a bigger hurdle for Sasikala.
According to political experts, a constituency in the Thevar-dominated southern districts, where the AIADMK leader hails from, could most likely be her choice.
Local municipal elections, which are expected to take place in summer, will be her first electoral test where she will have to prove her mettle in organising and running a campaign.
On the legal front, she has to deal with the Supreme Court verdict on the disproportionate assets case, where she is one of the co-accused. The court on Monday said it would pronounce its verdict next week.
The changing equation with the Centre is also of interest. While Jayalalithaa had made it clear that Tamil Nadu would not budge in its Opposition to schemes like the GST, Sasikala and O Panneerselvam have accepted them.
During Jayalalithaa’s funeral, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had greeted the AIADMK general secretary, and comforted her, indicating that their relationship may be more cordial than initially thought.
On the administrative front, Sasikala will have to deal with a host of problems plaguing the state. Severe drought, an ever-worsening agrarian crisis, economic downturn and uncertainty following the GST bill are expected to have an adverse effect on the state’s economy. Tamil Nadu currently has a deficit of Rs 15,855 crore.