On Wednesday night, a veteran politician and former AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala reportedly quit politics, days ahead of the Legislative Assembly Elections in Tamil Nadu. The announcement comes a week after Sasikala, who recently returned to Tamil Nadu in February after her stint in prison, asked the “true” loyalists of former AIADMK leader and former chief minister Jayalalithaa to “unite”.
Who is Sasikala?
VK Sasikala rose to power in the 1980s when she met J Jayalalithaa with a proposal to shoot a propaganda film for AIADMK, who was then the party’s Propaganda Minister and a close aide of the party founder and superstar MGR. A film buff herself, Sasikala soon grew close to Jayalalithaa, who herself was a former film star. After MGR’s death, Jayalalithaa rose to power and became AIADMK general secretary following a tough battle with MGR’s wife Janaki whom a faction of AIADMK pitched as the CM. Jayalalithaa went on to become a three-time CM in Tamil Nadu and during her reign, Sasikala grew not only in political power but also began to practice her influence in Jayalalithaa’s life and decisions. In addition, she became surrounded with her own cadre of family members and workers, often known as the ‘Mannargadi gang’, who wielded substantial influence in state politics.
Ouster from AIADMK
Allegedly unbeknownst to Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and her aides were running a disproportionate assets scam through which Sasikala laundered huge sums of money amassed by Amma for AIADMK. Sasikala also reported harboured dreams of becoming CM and she and her aides even reportedly tried to drug Jayalalithaa with sedatives. She was ousted from the party in 2011 after Jayalalitha discovered the realities. In 2012, however, Sasikala was reinducted to the party after she claimed she had cut all ties with her family and her former aides.
AIADMK General Secretary
In 2016, after the death of Amma, Sasikala Natarajan was hailed as “Chinnamma” (Little mother or aunt) and was unanimously elected as the general secretary of AIADMK. In February, she was elected the AIADMK Legislature Party Leader. Following then Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s resignation, she briefly became the CM-elect. Within days, however, Sasikala was found guilty in the disproportionate assets case. She and others were convicted and sent to four years at a prison in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Soon after the verdict, Sasikala was once again ousted from AIADMK.
Sasikala was recently leased from prison in January after completing her four-year term and returned to Tamil Nadu in February. Ahead of the crucial Legislative Assembly elections, all eyes were on Sasikala, who though no longer a member of any party, could still play an influential role in swinging votes to or against parties. While her stand on her nephew TTV Dhinakaran’s new party AMMK created a flutter, some speculated that Sasikala might join the BJP. On Wednesday night, however, Sasikala stunned all by announcing her retirement from politics. “Our target is to defeat common enemy DMK. I have never gone after power or prestige. I thank all followers and supporters of ‘Amma’,” she said, urging AIADMK to stay united and fight the DMK.