Sasikala may walk out of prison in January, likely to impact TN political landscape
Tamil Nadu, which will face assembly polls in the first quarter of next year, may see some changes in its political landscape as VK Sasikala Natarajan, once a close confidant of former AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa is likely to walk out of prison in January.
According to an RTI reply by the office of the Chief Superintendent of Prison, Parapanna Agrahara, where Sasikala is currently serving a four-year prison term after being convicted by the Supreme Court, the probable date of her release is January 27, 2021, if she pays the ordered fine of Rs 10 crore. In case she fails to pay the fine, she is likely to be released on February 27, 2022.
However, what is interesting is that in the RTI response by R Latha, Public Information Officer, Sasikala could be released earlier than January 27, 2021, if she utilises her parole facility. Sasikala had entered prison on February 15, 2015, but had served 35 days in prison earlier in 1997 and 2004.
According to Sasikala’s lawyer Raja Sendur Pandian, she is eligible to be released as early as the end of this month, though this could not be independently confirmed by HT with the prison authorities. Pandian claims that Sasikala is entitled to ‘ordinary remission’ given to all prisoners which would enable her to walk out of prison as early as the end of this month. He also said that arrangements have already been made to pay the Rs 10 crore fine to facilitate her smooth and quick release.
Sasikala’s reentry into Tamil Nadu’s political landscape is likely to have a significant impact. Before surrendering, she had been elected as general secretary of the party and leader of the AIADMK legislature party and was all set to be sworn in as the chief minister.
However, the then Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao waited for the Supreme Court judgement in the disproportionate case against Jayalalithaa and Sasikala. Both of them, along with Sasikala’s nephew Sudhakaran and confidante J Ilavarsi, were found guilty, thus quashing her hopes of becoming the CM. The sentence against Jayalalithaa was infructuous because she had died two months earlier.
After Sasikala’s arrest, Edappadi Palanswami - then seen as her proxy and key lieutenant - was elected as the leader of the legislature party and took charge as the chief minister. Later, after falling out with Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran, she was expelled from the AIADMK and removed from the post general secretary. Dhinakaran formed an alternate party AMMK which has not had much electoral success.
Now with Sasikala’s imminent release, the political scene could see a churn in the state. Political Analysts L Manjunath says, “If she can project herself as the wronged woman who had to go to jail to defend the honour of Thalivi Jayalalithaa, then she might still emerge as a significant force. Especially, as the Palanswami and the Paneerselvam (Deputy CM) factions are yet to fully reconcile with each other. Also, she belongs to the powerful Thevar community which could also be a factor in her favour.”
While the AIADMK is yet to react officially on the likely imminent release of Sasikala, fisheries minister D Jayakumar had dismissed the possibility of readmitting her or any likely impact on party fortunes because of her reentry into the state politics.
However, Sasikala might still face some challenges as the IT department is looking to auction some of the properties seized in the disproportionate assets case. “While the DMK-led alliance swept the Lok Sabha polls, assembly elections are a different challenge. If Sasikala can reunite all the erstwhile AIADMK factions, they can mount a serious challenge and it will not be a walkover like the parliamentary polls,” says Manjunath.