Two vehicles — part of expelled AIADMK chief VK Sasikala’s convo — carrying fireworks caught fire near Krishnagiri Toll Plaza today. Sasikala is on her way to Chennai after completing a jail term in Bengaluru in Rs 66.65 crore disproportionate assets case.
Sasikala, who was admitted to a private hospital in Bengaluru after contracting Covid-19 days before her release from Parappana Agrahara prison, was in quarantine at Prestige Golfshire Club in Bengaluru. She is returning to Tamil Nadu for the first time since her release after completing four-year incarceration on corruption charges.
A live-in aide of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, Sasikala sent out a strong political message to her supporters as she travelled to Tamil Nadu on Monday morning in an SUV that sported the AIADMK flag. This is despite the party’s warning against the use of their flag by non-members. Even Tamil Nadu police had warned Sasikala and her supporters against using the flag. She argues that when she went to jail she was an AIADMK party member and that she will continue to use the flag. However, by sporting the flag, she is sending out a clear message to the party’s workers that she is still the party’s general secretary — expelled or not. All cars in her convoy sported the flag.
The 66-year-old left the resort on Bengaluru outskirts accompanied by TTV Dinakaran — her nephew and general secretary of Amma Makka Munnetra Kazhagam — in a convoy of around 30 vehicles, as her supporters raised slogans hailing her. AMMK cadres planned a massive reception for her en route from Jujuvadi (Tamil Nadu border) to her temporary residence in T Nagar, Chennai. Posters hailing her as the “permanent General Secretary of AIADMK”, “Raj Mata (queen mother)” and “Guardian Goddess” have been put up in Chennai by her supporters. Sasikala will be staying at her niece J Krishnapriya's house in T Nagar.
Heavy security was deployed at the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border ahead of Sasikala’s travel. Her interstate journey saw hundreds of supporters come out on the streets to give her a rousing reception, while many had danced celebration. On her way to Chennai, Sasikala stopped to offer prayers at the Muthumari Amman Temple.
Meanwhile, AIAIDMK’s top brass are jittery upon her return, as it is expected to shake up Tamil Nadu politics ahead of polls due by May — even though she cannot contest for six years because of her conviction. The ruling government is on the offensive — from closing the Jayalalithaa memorial in Chennai for alleged repair works to filing a complaint against her usage of the AIADMK flag. They have also filed complaints with the DGP accusing Sasikala and Dinakaran of posing a threat to law and order.
AIADMK has imposed section 144 in many parts of the city, including the areas around the Poes Garden on the news of her return. Barricades have been put up and police personnel are deployed in abundance at the AIADMK head office in Royapettah. Meanwhile, six properties belonging to Sasikala’s sister-in-law J Ilavarasi and estranged nephew VN Sudhakaran were confiscated by the state government. Both Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi were also convicted in the disproportionate assets case.
Although Sasikala was removed as interim general secretary of the AIADMK by the new leadership under O Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami in 2017, she had challenged her removal from the post in courts, and she is likely to pursue the cases upon her return to Chennai.
AMMK chief Dinakaran said, “She is the AIADMK General Secretary. She was unanimously nominated to that post in December 2016. We have been stating this since then and have been fighting it in the court as well. She is the one who has to take all political decisions. That is what AMMK has said even back then and we say even now.”
As Tamil Nadu stares at its most crucial polls in recent years, Sasikala’s presence in Chennai likely to create ripples in Tamil Nadu politics, although AIADMK continues to assert that her release from jail will have no impact on the government and the party.
However, the current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister are confident of their command in the party as Sasikala is barred from contesting elections for 10 years after her conviction in 2017. She will have to wait till 2031 to contest the state election, as the next assembly polls would be due in 2026.
Sasikala had recaptured the AIADMK government from the rebel leader O Panneerselvam through a floor test in the Assembly in early 2017, amid a tussle for power in Tamil Nadu following Jayalalithaa’s death. Although she installed EK Palaniswami, a trusted aide as Chief Minister, he turned on her by entering a merging deal with O Panneerselvam after she was jailed in a case in which Jayalalithaa was the first accused. In February 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s conviction against Sasikala and her two relatives in the disproportionate assets case.
It has been reported that the Bharatiya Janata Party has been pushing its ally to let Sasikala back into the party fold to avoid a split of votes that could benefit rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. According to political observers, AIADMK officials are not being vocal about Sasikala due to vote bank politics. Sasikala belongs to the Thevar community and the party officials fear that if they were to say something against her it will lead to a loss of votes in South Tamil Nadu, where the community has a strong presence. Political observers also suggest that Sasikala might get support from senior leaders of the party who have been sidelined and are upset with AIADMK’s decision to ally with BJP.