Sasikala released; AIADMK puts up show of strength at Jayalalithaa’s memorial
Late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s close aide and expelled AIADMK leader VK Sasikala is formally free after serving her four-year prison sentence in the disproportionate assets case in the Bengaluru Parappana Agrahara Central Jail but she remains hospitalised for Covid-19 at the Victoria hospital.
Prison authorities were in the hospital on Wednesday morning to complete the formalities of Sasikala’s release. Her family is in Bengaluru and her return to Chennai is yet to be decided based on her health condition.
Meanwhile, even as Sasikala completed prison formalities, her party--the AIADMK from which she was expelled in 2017-- put up a huge show of strength in Chennai with a sea of party cadre and senior leaders while chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami inaugurated a 80-crore phoenix-themed memorial for Jayalalithaa on the Marina beach where she is buried. AIADMK has decided not to take Sasikala back and the inauguration was strategically timed with her release.
It is being seen as a way to boost cadre morale and send a political message to Sasikala, Opposition parties and the public that the AIADMK is united under the dual leadership of Palaniswami and his deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam with assembly elections slated for April-May. “We have to work hard to win a third term as our tribute to Amma (Jayalalithaa),” Palaniswami said at the inauguration. Incidentally, when Sasikala was on her way to the prison from Chennai to Bengaluru in February 2017, she had stopped at Jayalalithaa’s burial place, thumped her palm on the ground thrice and dramatically taken a vow.
Palanisami is the chief minister candidate for the AIADMK-led NDA alliance in Tamil Nadu. He reiterated earlier this month, in Delhi after meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that Sasikala has ceased to be an AIADMK member and will not be re-inducted. While a section of Sasikala’s supporters expect her back, another section wants the status quo to remain.
Though Sasikala has never campaigned or contested, she was a powerful behind-the-scenes operator during her three-decade association with Jayalalithaa. After the latter’s death, she briefly held the reigns of the party as interim general secretary and was set to become chief minister before she was convicted.
Saisikala appointed her then loyalist Palaniswami to be chief minister. But he joined hands with O Paneerselvam who had revolted against her and the two factions under them merged and the AIADMK expelled Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran in 2017. Dinakaran got elected as an independent MLA from Jayalalithaa’s seat left vacant with her death. Subsequently, he floated the AMMK which has a 4% vote share in the 2019 elections. AMMK has planned an elaborate welcome for Sasikala’s return.
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