The AIADMK government is trying all measures to block VK Sasikala, close aide of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, from entering the late leader’s memorial and prevent a public reception on her return to Chennai on February 8, fearing a hostile takeover of the reins of the ruling party.
Sasikala is returning on Monday from Bengaluru after spending four years in jail in a disproportionate assets case. The government is also trying to prevent her entry to the Poes Garden residence shared by Jayalalithaa and Sasikala and the AIADMK headquarters, and is using the police to prevent her public reception.
Twice in two days, a group of ministers visited the police headquarters to seek a ban on Sasikala’s reception by a group comprising mostly AIADMK personnel, bringing to the fore a fresh round of groupism in the ruling party.
The AIADMK has been rocked by implosions ever since the death of Jayalalithaa in 2016, with first a group led by O Panneerselvam (who is now the deputy chief minister), leading a banner of revolt, and later another group owing allegiance to Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who led the dissent in his aunt’s absence.
The Edappadi Palaniswami government, within a few days of opening the Jaya memorial on Marina beach on January 27, hurriedly closed it, ostensibly for corrective works, but more to prevent Sasikala from visiting it and gaining political and emotional mileage.
Obviously, the AIADMK dispensation was worried over reports that Sasikala might undertake a fast or meditation a la O Panneerselvam and launch a dharmayudham (holy war) against those in power.
Similarly, the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa was declared open along with another government memorial, which too were closed soon after.
The AIADMK headquarters at Avvai Shanmugham road has been turned virtually into a fortress to thwart an attempt by Sasikala to enter the office. A group of ministers has also petitioned the DGP that she is not allowed to use the AIADMK flag on her car.
Meanwhile, there has been a rash of posters welcoming the return of Sasikala, slated for February 8, despite AIADMK coming down heavily on any such acts by partymen. Over a dozen party functionaries, who had put up posters hailing her, have already been summarily removed by the AIADMK high command, and more such orders are in the pipeline.
It is important to judge the support for Sasikala or the absence of it in the context of the crackdown on any expression of support. In the normal course, in absence of such punitive orders, a few MLAs and even a couple of ministers might have been planning to make a “courtesy call” and greet her soon after she arrives in Chennai. No MLA or party functionary will be prepared to take that risk or course of action now as a race is on for party tickets with elections round the corner.
The situation is bound to heat up over the next few weeks as Sasikala is said to be in no hurry to launch a tirade against Palaniswami and the ministers for their “betrayal”. She is expected to take stock of the situation and assess her various options after making telephone calls to some ministers and MLAs who had earlier pledged loyalty to her. The telecom route would protect ministers and MLAs from “disciplinary action”.
Sasikala is prepared to bide her time and strike at the appropriate time, her camp reveals. Meanwhile, the EPS group moves on from one “knee-jerk” reaction to another. A collision is inevitable if there is no compromise and the Palaniswami camp is expected to put their best to guard their fortress ahead of the state polls due in three months.