Sasikala, lodged at the Parappana Agrahara prison in Chennai, is expected to come out on January 27, 2021, after she deposited Rs 10 crore fine at a special court.

Sasikala's shadow looms large over AIADMK as ministers clash over CM candidate

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Sasikala, though locked up in Bengaluru prison, casts her shadow over the ruling AIADMK, months before her return to Chennai and the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The ruling party, which seemed to be ready for the polls under the leadership of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, is now caught in a war of words between ministers over its chief ministerial candidate.

Minister Sellur Raju, who has acquired the knack of making controversial and quixotic statements, has queered the pitch by his statement that the newly-elected MLAs of the AIADMK would elect its Legislature Party Leader (CM) after the 2021 elections and not prior to the elections. It means that Palaniswami would not be projected as the CM candidate.

Another Minister Rajendra Balaji has joined issue with him stating that the party would project Edappadi as the chief ministerial candidate before the elections. His point of view is that the people have appreciated steps taken by the chief minister in the wake of COVID-19 attack, and the welfare projects of the state government. He also feels that electing the CM after the polls could lead to horse-trading.

Though senior party leader O Panneerselvam wanted to become chief minister after the death of J Jayalalithaa, his hopes were dashed when Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s close friend, decided to take over the mantle of chief ministership as also the party post of general secretary. OPS revolted but he had only a dozen MLAs with him.

The Supreme Court verdict in the Disproportionate Assets case, upholding the judgement of the trial court against Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, and two of the latter’s relatives — Sudhagaran and Ilavarasi, put paid to Sasikala’s hopes of becoming CM. Before leaving for Bengaluru prison, Sasikala entrusted the chief ministership to Edappadi.

For months, the two factions led by Edappadi and OPS fought against each other. A compromise was effected by PM Narendra Modi to enable OPS to take charge as Deputy Chief Minister and Co-ordinator of the party after Edappadi and his group agreed to remove Sasikala and her relatives from the party.

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However, with Sasikala expected to be back in Chennai shortly, after completing her term in prison, cracks have developed in the AIADMK once again. Just a month ago, a senior minister, OS Manian, said a decision on taking Sasikala back in the party would be taken by the party leadership. Senior Minister D Jayakumar, the unofficial spokesperson of the AIADMK and the chief minister, retorted that the party had also decided against Sasikala’s continuance of the party, and this position would continue.

The statement of another Minister, Sellur Raju, that a decision on chief ministership would be decided only by the new MLAs after the polls comes as another indication of a rift in the party. He is apparently against projecting Edappadi as the CM candidate.

It is well known that most of the Ministers and party MLAs were hand-picked by Sasikala as party candidates or district secretaries. The chief minister is himself Sasikala’s choice. Therefore, the party would face anxious moments as and when Sasikala returns. The official line of the party is that it would have no truck with Sasikala or her relatives. Most of the MLAs would find it embarrassing to deal with Sasikala as she was the main point of communication between Jayalalithaa and party functionaries.

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister’s camp is unfazed by the war of words between Ministers, and believes that the party is fully behind him. A significant section of the party’s legislators has come from the western belt of the State where Edappadi has built a strong base for himself, backed by several ministers from this region. The camp believes that the same situation would continue even after the 2021 polls, and that he would have the upper hand in the Legislature Party.

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