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M Natarajan, a bridge between parties

Natarajan’s influence was not confined to the AIADMK but cut across party lines -- to the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

india Updated: Mar 21, 2018 07:49 IST
P Sakthivel
M Natarajan, 74, husband of AIADMK leader VK Sasikala, died in Chennai on Tuesday.
M Natarajan, 74, husband of AIADMK leader VK Sasikala, died in Chennai on Tuesday.(HT Photo)

In 1965, M.Natarajan’s active participation in the anti-Hindi campaign s in Tamil Nadu brought him to the attention of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government. By 1970-71, he was an assistant public relations officer in the government, not a very senior post, but close to then chief minister and DMK supremo Muthuvel Karunanidhi.

Natarajan faded from relevance through the 1970s, and the 1980s found him as a public relations officer in Coimbatore. A chance meeting with J Jayalalithaa, then the propaganda secretary of the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and an almost instant friendship that sprang up between his wife V.K. Sasikala and Jayalalithaa changed his fortunes.

Soon, he and his wife became close associates of Jayalalithaa, especially through a trying period after the death of AIADMK leader and Jayalalithaa’s mentor MG Ramachandran in 1984. In 1991, when Jayalalithaa took over the reins of power in the state, he became even more powerful -- the primary advisor to a first-time chief minister.

Natarajan’s influence was not confined to the AIADMK but cut across party lines -- to the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. He often acted as a go-between. But his relationship with Jayalalithaa had already started souring, although it was only in 2011 that he was expelled from the AIADMK. Sasikala, who had continued to maintain a close relationship with Jayalalithaa through the years Natarajan was in the wilderness, was expelled too, but subsequently reinstated. Still, while he was never visible, it is believed that he and Sasikala continued to be the power behind the throne.

Natarajan remained out, though, a peripheral figure in the state’s politics, even as his wife’s influence continued to grow. In 2016, he emerged after Jayalalithaa’s death and seemed set to influence the state’s politics with his wife and her family till ill-health did him in and a court case (for disprorportionate assets) laid Sasikala low.

He died on Tuesday at the age of 74 and his demise is unlikely to have little impact for the TTV faction of the party (headed by Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran), Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam. The AIADMK, after Jayalalithaa’s death, continued to maintain its distance from him. And Sasika’s imprisonment contributed even further to his declining relevance.

The author is an associate professor, Annamalai University.