Former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala, who’s now back in Chennai after serving a four-year term of imprisonment, is said to be preparing a long-term plan to emerge as the ‘rajamaatha’ of the ruling AIADMK.
Her strategy, which will unfold in the next few days, is to emerge as the Force of Unity, bringing about a rapprochement not only between her supporters and Chief Minister K Palaniswami but also with other sections of the party embroiled in local conflicts.
She seems to have the full backing of the BJP top leadership in the option that she presents before the CM — collusion or collision.
As a person who was the de facto general secretary of the party and chief minister of the state, with influence in the corridors of power and at various rungs of the party, Sasikala, according to sources close to her, does not want to be seen as a destabilising influence in the party.
She wants to revert to the 2017 role when she got the party MLAs huddled in a resort to bid to negate the attempts of O Panneerselvam to stay on in power, while at the same time, ensuring continuance of the AIADMK government after the death of Jayalalithaa.
Sasikala realises she has to work from scratch as power is a glue and a cementing force used by Palaniswami to secure support from ministers and MLAs in terms of power and pelf, contracts and concessions.
Her absence from the scene for four years, the manipulation by the BJP to oust her from the party as a pre-condition for the merger of the OPS group, the disqualification of 18 MLAs (her supporters), and the image of the ‘Mannargudi mafia’ as her family has been portrayed in a section of the media — all these will be stumbling blocks as she attempts her comeback.
The message that Sasikala wants to send to the leadership and cadre is that they need her qualities and ability to unite people, and that of a strong and powerful leader. Therefore, at this moment, she’ll stick to the plan of projecting herself as a martyr who stood by Jayalalithaa through thick and thin, and as a person genuinely interested in the fortunes of the AIADMK. In this process, she will send out an olive branch to EPS for unity. If EPS continues to keep her out and resist the unity efforts, he will be seen as a spoiler and not Sasikala.
Meanwhile, Sasikala expects the BJP leadership to mount pressure on the AIADMK to go in for unity efforts with AMMK, the party floated by Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran. If the AIADMK leadership shows reluctance, BJP leaders believe they know what works as far as the AIADMK ministers are concerned. Shock tactics as used in 2017 to force the AIADMK leadership to accept a merger with the OPS group are not ruled out. The BJP believes that ultimately the AIADMK leadership will fall in line.
On the other hand, senior AIADMK ministers confide that the going will be tough over the next few weeks as the party will have to handle the pressure from the BJP, and somehow stall its efforts at least till the Assembly elections are over. The idea is that the Sasikala group may be asked by well-wishers to wait till the election process is over.
This strategy may not pass muster as the Sasikala group wants a slice of the cake in a pre-election understanding so that several of its leaders can become MLAs. That would act as a pressure group within the party in any post-election operation.
EPS is wary about these developments and is clearly against bringing Sasikala back into the party fold as he feels it’s only a question of time before she assumes power in the party structure. His fear is that once Sasikala gains a toehold in the party, he could be eased out just as OPS was shown the door.