Chennai: Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has expelled her longtime aide Sasikala Natarajan and 11 others from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), party officials said on Monday.

Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa with her close aide Sasikala at a function in Chennai. File photo.

“No idea," said V. Maitreyan, AIADMK Rajya Sabha member, who is currently in Delhi and learnt about the developments from television news, when asked about the cause of Sasikala’s removal. AIADMK members at the party office in Chennai confirmed the developments.

On Monday afternoon, a few party people started to trickle into Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence in central Chennai where security was being gradually beefed up with the arrival of journalists and other AIADMK members.

“This is an internal party matter," said rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) Asan Mohammed Jinnah. “We can comment if there are changes in policy that affect the common man. This is something AIADMK must sort out."

The expelled party members include Sasikala’s husband, nephew and a few other relatives. Sasikala, a former video rental store owner, who has been close to Jayalalithaa since 1984, is one of the main accused in a case based on allegations that Jayalalithaa amassed assets worth 66 crore during her stint as chief minister in 1991-96.

To ensure an unbiased trial, the case is being tried in a Bangalore special court.

“This is not the first time this is happening," said A.S. Panneerselvan, executive director of PANOS South Asia, a media-advocacy non-governmental organization, of the differences between Sasikala and Jayalalithaa. “There have been turf wars between them before and they always patch up. I’m not sure if this is a fight that will last."

About 15 years ago, Jayalalithaa (popularly known as “amma" or mother) severed her ties with Sasikala (widely known as “chinna amma" or little mother) after being defeated in the 1996 assembly elections. She ended her first stint as chief minister by losing even in her own constituency. This was attributed to numerous corruption scandals and the extravagant wedding of Jayalalithaa’s foster son and Sasikala’s nephew V.N. Sudhakaran that found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records because of the size of its guest list.

Sasikala and Jayalalithaa patched up shortly afterwards.

While Monday’s announcement seems unexpected, Jayalalithaa’s mercurial streak has been visible through a string of actions following her party’s thumping electoral victory in May.

Her cabinet has already been through one major reshuffle—in November, just seven months after she took office—in which six ministers were replaced, and the portfolio of two reassigned. A handful of ministers and secretaries have lost their jobs or been transferred on other occasions since May.

She has also overturned several initiatives backed by her predecessor and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, announcing, for instance, that two constructions—one meant to be a secretariat and the other a functioning library—would be turned into hospitals.

Anupama Chandrasekaran contributed to this story.