What made Sasikala tick and why J. Jayalalithaa considered her indispensable, we will never know. Jayalalithaa called Sasikala her sister who took care of all her needs like a mother. Eyebrows were raised and questions thrown in their direction about the nature of their relationship when Jaya exchanged garlands with Sasi at Thirukadaiyur temple on the occasion of her 60th birthday in February 2008. They would travel together to all functions, even took part in a holy dip together during the Mahamaham festival in Tamil Nadu.
Ministers could not directly meet Jayalalithaa the CM, and had to go through Sasi, so did officials and leaders of allies. Sasi was the conduit of communication between Jayalalithaa and the external world. It was Sasi not Jaya who negotiated with political parties, struck deals with allies, broke opposition front and brought several parties into Jaya’s fold, using money power and resources. Sasi was the political brain behind the Jaya brand of politics. Many parties have been beneficiaries of Sasi’s largesse. She would quickly turn electoral defeats into victories.
In 2011, came a second, short period of separation as Sasikala was again asked to quit the Poes Garden residence, and 13 members of her family were told not to enter the house. A few months later, Jaya altered this decision and invited Sasi to return to Poes Garden.
Meanwhile, Jaya and Sasi and the latter’s family faced various cases filed by the Income Tax department and the Enforcement Directorate, relating to hawala transactions and assets disproportionate to known sources of income (DA). (An interesting anecdote: In the trial court case, Sasikala’s lawyer pointed out to the court that she did not know English and demanded translation of all the case documents into Tamil, had the demand been granted, it could have resulted in further delay in the trial).
After 18 years, Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, and the latter’s relatives were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison by the trial court in Bengaluru in the Rs 66 -crore Disproportionate Assets case. The four were arrested and lodged in a Bengaluru prison. Their appeal before a Karnataka HC judge was successful but Jaya was hospitalized due to a lung infection and died in December 2016.
On appeal, the Supreme Court restored the trial court conviction, shortly after Jaya’s death; the AIADMK by then had elected Sasikala as the general secretary and leader of the legislature party so that she could stake claim as the chief minister. On the Supreme Court order, Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi were arrested and lodged in Bengaluru prison. Twice in her career, Jayalalithaa was arrested and did not forgive her arch-rival, M. Karunanidhi, who as the Tamil Nadu chief minister directed the corruption cases to be filed against her and Sasi.
The Sasikala family, on the other hand, was said to have close connections with Karunanidhi who, ironically enough, presided over the marriage of Sasikala and Natarajan. It was also well known that Natarajan had close links with Dravidar Kazhagam, founded by E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, also known as Periyar, a rationalist leader considered the guru of the Dravidian movement, and claimed to have taken part in the anti-Hindi agitation in the state in the 1960s.
Before leaving for Bengaluru prison in 2017, Sasikala installed Edappadi Palaniswami as the chief minister and her nephew TTV Dinakaran as deputy general secretary to run the party in her absence. However, by the time Sasikala came out of prison on completion of the term, the tables had turned. The AIADMK government, its ministers and party leaders said the party would have no truck with her.
It was a sad end for Sasikala’s political mission on March 4 as the AIADMK rejected her call for unity and she preferred to quit politics rather than affect the chances of the party in the April 6 polls. Thus, at least for the moment, Sasi’s dramatic rise (from rags to riches) and enjoying tremendous power in the company of Jaya have come to a stop. This may be a temporary arrangement till the polls are over.This is the second in a two-part series on the ‘Rise of Sasikala’ in Tamil Nadu politics. The first part can be read here