The message from the former Tamil Nadu chief minister’s close aide and ex-general secretary of AIADMK was not lost on the ruling party in her state.
FOUR DAYS after she completed her four-year jail term in a disproportionate assets case, and minutes after her discharge following treatment for Covid, V K Sasikala sent a political signal to her supporters — she came out of the hospital in Bengaluru on Sunday inside the late J Jayalalithaa’s trademark Toyota Prado vehicle with an AIADMK flag on it.
The message from the former Tamil Nadu chief minister’s close aide and ex-general secretary of AIADMK was not lost on the ruling party in her state. Senior AIADMK minister D Jayakumar said using the flag was “against the interests” of the party as Sasikala had been expelled. “Sasikala has no right to use the AIADMK flag on the vehicle,” he said.
In early 2017, amid a tussle for power in Tamil Nadu following Jayalalithaa’s death, Sasikala had recaptured the AIADMK government from rebel leader O Panneerselvam through a floor test in the Assembly. She installed E K Palaniswami, one of her trusted aides, as Chief Minister. But Palaniswami and Panneerselvam then joined hands to oust her from the party after she was jailed in the case in which Jayalalithaa was the first accused.
On Sunday, Sasikala’s nephew and the man who emerged as a leader in her absence, T T V Dhinakaran, hit back at the party. “She is the general secretary of AIADMK…cases in this regard are pending in court. So that is why there is a party flag on her car,” he said.
With Assembly elections looming, Sasikala’s return to the political space in Tamil Nadu presents a dilemma to the AIADMK. More so, because there are two voices within the party — one demanding her return to the fold and the other seeking to keep her out.
Dhinakaran, who defeated the candidates of AIADMK and DMK in a state bypoll and formed Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) for the last Lok Sabha polls, said his party was set up to “recapture” AIADMK “through democratic ways”. “We will continue that effort,” he said.
Sources in the AIADMK acknowledged that Sasikala’s release from prison “has already created unease” in the party and that a section within, including many senior leaders and ministers from the Cauvery delta and southern districts, is in favour of her return to the fold.
In the past few days, the AIADMK had to sack several workers for putting up posters in different districts welcoming Sasikala. Panneerselvam’s son V P Jayapradeep himself had issued a statement wishing Sasikala a speedy recovery — with a disclaimer that it was not a political message.
While the BJP and RSS are encouraging the AIADMK leadership to take her back or strike an alliance with AMMK to consolidate party votes, the Sasikala camp has added to the pressure. On Saturday, ‘Namadhu MGR’, the mouthpiece of the group, termed the current AIADMK leadership as “traitors” in an editorial, and ridiculed them as “opportunists” who “prostrated” and “crawled” (before Sasikala) for party posts.
The group is also said to have decided to form a third front with smaller parties, such as PMK or Captain Vijayakanth’s DMDK which is currently in the ruling alliance. But a senior AIADMK leader said that informal talks are “still happening” through multiple channels. “Since Dhinakaran is the issue, she is expected to ask him to step back from a leadership role to make her entry easier,” he said, suggesting that the presence of Sasikala’s nephew is a hurdle.
Sasikala, meanwhile, will continue to remain in Bengaluru for a few more days before moving to Chennai where arrangements have been made for a new office building.
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