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Selfless Deed or a Strategic Retreat? The Story Behind Sasikala's Premature Exit From Politics

File photo of expelled AIADMK leader VK Sasikala greeting her supporters after she got discharged from a hospital, in Bengaluru.

File photo of expelled AIADMK leader VK Sasikala greeting her supporters after she got discharged from a hospital, in Bengaluru.

The 66-year-old may be lying in wait for EPS-OPS's defeat in the upcoming assembly polls to project herself as the AIADMK's only hope for redemption.

V K Sasikala might have said she is quitting politics and the common purpose of her and Amma’s (Jayalalithaa) party is to defeat their common enemy DMK, but that doesn’t mean she is completely out of the picture. It could be the first step in her calculated wait-and-watch strategy.

Sasikala, after her release, chose not to speak about AMMK, the party launched by her nephew TTV Dinakaran. She chose to use a car run by an AIADMK functionary with an AIADMK flag on her first visit to Chennai. And that symbolism, later on, became a routine. On Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary on February 24, she appealed to Jaya supporters to come together and fight against DMK.

Interestingly, she chose to call the current Tamil Nadu government “Amma’s government” and not the AIADMK government, strategically adding that Jayalalithaa once told her that her government would continue for a hundred years even after her demise. She may also soon vacate the court case to regain her AIADMK General Secretary post.

And now, with her decision to withdraw from politics, she may have just played her opening move.

One of the biggest challenges before her was to emerge from Jayalalithaa’s shadow while continuing to cash in on her glory and cult-like popularity. She knew she couldn’t make big changes to the AIADMK as it would have been seen as a power-hungry move by Amma’s supporters and Sasikala couldn’t risk antagonising them.

The second big concern was protecting the traditional vote-bank of the AIADMK. Her speaking against the current AIADMK leadership of Chief Minister E Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvam would naturally split the party’s traditional voters.

It would be a huge mistake not just for the EPS-OPS duo or even for Sasikala to let that happen especially since Dinakaran’s AMMK and his political career failed to take off. We should not be surprised if, in the near future, we find AMMK merging with AIADMK.

The third big concern is about the EPS-OPS duo’s ability to keep the party united even after Sasikala’s release. EPS has made it very clear that Sasikala won’t be taken back. So, if she wishes to return to the AIADMK in the future, she needs the grounds cleared and a humiliating defeat to AIADMK in the upcoming assembly polls can go a long way in setting it up for her. Also, a united AIADMK will be a big boost for anyone to take over.

The DMK alliance was ahead in 221 of the 234 assembly seats in the state in the recently held Lok Sabha elections. If that reflects in the next assembly election results too, it would be political hara-kiri for the EPS-OPS duo in the AIADMK.

However, can they brave the AIADMK tumult after an electoral humiliation? We need to remember that they are not from the Karunanidhi family nor were they close to Jayalalithaa. Party leaders of a humiliated party will find it hard to accept their leadership when they fail badly in the first assembly election under their leadership after Jaya’s demise.

Add to this the findings of a 2019 post-poll survey by CSDS in Tamil Nadu. The survey findings say that most of the traditional AIADMK voters don’t believe that the party led by the EPS-OPS duo is the real AIADMK.

While Sasikala will be on a higher pedestal then after ‘sacrificing’ her political career to fulfil Amma’s wishes, she even won hearts by desisting from making negative comments about the current AIADMK leadership.

From being perceived as power-hungry, her newly-achieved moral high ground might be a driving force to appeal to the AIADMK cadre to once again gather behind her.

Even after the six-year electoral ban from the disproportionate assets case is over, the 66-year-old can run for the chief minister’s post. A CM seat at 72 years is a normal deal.

 We may say that Sasikala might be seen as a corrupt leader but we also need to see that Jayalalithaa too, faced similar corruption charges and, in spite of being jailed, she defied the trend in Tamil Nadu and became the CM consecutively for the second time in 2016, a first after 1984.

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