From being Jayalalithaa's shadow, aide Sasikala has finally stepped into the spotlight
Chennai: Nearly three decades ago—in the early 1980s—a woman who ran a video rental store in Chennai began to shoot video films at weddings and other functions.
At around the same time, another woman joined the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The former was Sasikala and the latter, the late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Their paths were soon to converge and spark off a decades-long friendship.
In an attempt to expand wife Sasikala’s business, M. Natarajan, an assistant public relations officer with the Tamil Nadu government, approached Cuddalore collector V.S. Chandralekha and sought an introduction with Jayalalithaa, the popular film star who had joined the AIADMK in June 1982. He wanted Sasikala to be allowed to videograph the meetings of the party.
The actor-turned-politician became the propaganda secretary of the AIADMK and Sasikala began shooting her speeches at public rallies.
“Jayalalithaa would get videos from her (Sasikala) store to watch movies. Then, they started shooting videos of AIADMK. Jayalalithaa loved being clicked and shot in videos," said a former state government employee on condition of anonymity.
When Jayalalithaa’s mentor and chief minister M.G. Ramachandran died in 1987, AIADMK was thrown into a state of crisis. The party founded by MGR split into two factions—one under MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran and the other under Jayalalithaa, only to be reunited soon under Jayalalithaa’s leadership. During this whole crisis, Sasikala was with Jayalalithaa; she supported her and moved into Jayalalithaa’s residence at Poes Garden in the late 1980s.
“She has been with Amma throughout and has dedicated her life for the well-being of Amma," said an AIADMK member who did not wish to be named.
Jayalalithaa became the chief minister in 1991 and since then Sasikala and her family have been Jayalalithaa’s shadow.
Natarajan soon displeased Jayalalithaa and was kept away from Poes Garden. Briefly, Sasikala was also away from Amma, after the 1996 election debacle. In December 2011, Sasikala and her close relatives were expelled from the AIADMK’s executive council. However, Sasikala was back a few months later after writing a public apology.
Last week, at Jayalalithaa’s funeral, the entire clan—siblings, nephews and nieces of Sasikala—and Natarajan came out in public for the first time, surrounding the body at Rajaji Hall. Sasikala stood next to Jayalalithaa, just like Jayalalithaa herself stood behind MGR’s body in 1987.
It was Sasikala who performed the last rites.
Sasikala, though a member of the AIADMK, has never held any position in the party. While posters supporting Sasikala have sprung up in Chennai in the past few days, senior ministers began projecting ‘chinnamma’ (mother’s sister) or Sasikala as the next party general secretary.
Avadi Kumar, a spokesperson of AIADMK, said, “Amma has never taken any decision without the knowledge of Sasikala. So, in today’s situation, she is the one who can save the party."
Over the years, Sasikala and her family’s influence in key decisions of the party has widened. And, the domination of the Mukkulathors—a caste dominant in the central and southern districts, to which Sasikala belongs—has grown.
Apart from party decision-making, Sasikala and her family have dominated the business scene through granite industries, mining, liquor, real estate, cinema production, etc.