Will VK Sasikala’s exit from TN politics checkmate the DMK and help BJP?

Sasikala, who was widely expected to challenge for control of AIADMK and the Chief Minister’s post, in a surprising announcement said that she will “stay away from politics and public life”
Amit Shah (L); VK Sasikala
Amit Shah (L); VK Sasikala

Tamil Nadu politics is rich with surprises. From Kamal Haasan expressing his desire to be the CM of the state to Rajinikanth saying he would step into politics only to back out, the state politics has many a person hooked.

Expelled AIADMK leader VK Sasikala arrived in Chennai on February 9 from Bengaluru, where she served a four-year jail term in a corruption case and underwent treatment for Covid-19. Draped in a green sari — former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s favourite colour — Sasikala left Bengaluru after paying floral tributes to a portrait of Jayalalithaa. She was accompanied by her nephew and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader TTV Dinakaran.

During the journey, Sasikala told party members, “Just like how Amma (J Jayalalithaa) wanted AIADMK to run for another 100 years after her demise, to continue her legacy, I’ll live the rest of my life for the development of the party. I will do so by following the principles that family is party and party is family. All of Jayalalithaa’s children are my children too.” Her supporters broke into celebrations and showered flower petals on her convoy throughout her journey from Karnataka.

The return of Sasikala, a close aide of Jayalalithaa, to Tamil Nadu’s political scene after her imprisonment in the disproportionate assets case had sent ripples through the AIADMK. Her decision to travel in a car bearing the AIADMK flag, despite Tamil Nadu Ministers filing a complaint with the police, suggested that she would not bow out without a fight for the party that she once led. 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 legally challenged her removal from the post.

Dinakaran, who indicated that Sasikala might contest elections, said his efforts to “retrieve” the AIADMK would continue and asserted that the aim was to ensure that the DMK did not come to power in the coming Assembly polls in the state. He further claimed that several members of the AIADMK were in touch with him, who would soon join the AMMK fold. Replying to a question if AMMK and AIADMK would join hands to keep the DMK at bay he said, “As far as I am concerned, AMMK was started in March 2018 to retrieve AIADMK and give Amma’s [Sasikala] rule”.

However, Sasikala, who was widely expected to challenge for control of the party and the Chief Minister’s post, in a surprising announcement said that she will “stay away from politics and public life”.

In a letter released Wednesday night Sasikala — a confidante of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa — wrote, “I have never been after power or position even when Jaya was alive. I won’t do that after she is dead. I am staying away from politics to ensure the continuation of AIADMK’s ‘golden rule’ in Tamil Nadu.”

She added, “I will pray to God and my sister (Jayalalithaa) for AIADMK's victory (and) I urge supporters of AIADMK to work together and defeat the DMK (the primary opposition). I urge the party cadre to work to keep her legacy going.”

A statement released by Dinakaran said, “It saddens all of us but her intention is noble as she wants all of Jayalalithaa’s followers to stay united.” He pointed out that since her earlier appeal for such unity had failed to cut ice with the ruling AIADMK, she had come to this decision as she did not want to be “an obstacle for unity.”

Hours earlier, the BJP, which said it was a part of the “AIADMK-led alliance”, said that the AIADMK would decide on her return. Sasikala’s opting out will remove the main stumbling block before the ruling AIADMK and Dinakaran’s AMMK allying for the April 6 elections. Home Minister Amit Shah had insisted on seat sharing between the two sides to consolidate the AIADMK votes to stop the DMK. However, Chief Minister E Palaniswami had ruled out accommodating Sasikala or Dinakaran in the party or the alliance led by it.

Sasikala’s move has forced Palaniswami’s hand and his supporters who had opposed her re-entry into the AIADMK or even a seat arrangement with the AMMK. They will now have little option but to accommodate the AMMK. Moreover, while Sasikala cannot contest polls for six years since she was convicted of corruption, but many see her letter as part of a larger strategy. It will, however, remain to be seen if her calculated move will reunite the AIADMK and checkmate the DMK.

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