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'Panneerselvam Disgracing Amma's Memory. That is What Pains Me'

In her first-ever interview after the death of J Jalayalithaa, Sasikala speaks to Network18 Senior Editor S Gunasekaran about the current political crisis in the state and her relationship with ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa.

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Updated:February 8, 2017, 11:09 PM IST
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'Panneerselvam Disgracing Amma's Memory. That is What Pains Me'
VK Sasikala speaks to Network 18 Senior Editor S Gunasekaran (News18 Tamil)
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VK Sasikala, in the eye of a storm, after ‘caretaker’ Chief Minister O Panneerselvam raised a banner of revolt, is still waiting for Governor Vidyasagar Rao’s invitation to take charge as the new Tamil Nadu CM. In her first-ever interview after the death of J Jalayalithaa, Sasikala speaks to Network18 Senior Editor S Gunasekaran about the current political crisis in the state and her relationship with ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa. Excerpts:

Last week, the AIADMK elected you as the leader of the party in Assembly and as the CM. In 2 -3 days, another meeting of the legislators was held. What was the need for two meetings in one week?

Yesterday, O Panneerselvam released a new version of the events. He sat at the Amma Memorial and meditated. Then he said he was forced to sign off on my elevation. That allegation is not true. All the AIADMK legislators were enraged at his comments and turned up at Poes Garden. With them, some 20,000-25,000 cadre also arrived.

As the party general secretary, I told them not to worry. I told them, “I am here, I will safeguard the party and take it on Amma’s path.”. I reassured them that Amma's government would continue to work the Amma way in serving the people. After that they left. It was the loud voice of the cadre outside that brought me out to speak to them. I spoke to them as a mother and told them Amma will guide us.

Today, I went to the party headquarters where all (party) Assembly members and Rajya Sabha members gathered. We all discussed the situation. They said I should lead them, and asked “who is Panneerselvam?”. I asked them not to worry and said we will take care of this.

We can also see this as a way of you showing that the majority of AIADMK legislators are on your side. Also, Panneerselvam’s allegations of being threatened are making the headlines. You say they are untrue…

It is untrue. On February 5 at 2 pm, the meeting started. He (Panneerselvam) spoke to me well, which you must have seen on TV. No such incident happened. I don’t know why he said it, or who is behind this. It is still murky.

He says he was threatened and forced into signing his resignation and that he wasn’t even allowed to visit Jayalalithaa's memorial.

He never said anything of that sort. He met all the legislators and came with them to the office. This happened on the 5th. He is saying all this on the 7th, two days later. As time goes by, we will all see who is behind all this.

You have been elected as the CM-designate. But no response has come from the Governor's side. From the AIADMK side, you have neither announced nor written saying that Panneerselvam has resigned and that it is your right to claim the post. Have you asked the Governor yet?

On February 5 at 2 pm, the legislators of our party unanimously elected me. We have all the records to prove that. That evening itself, we went to the Governor’s bungalow. But they said he is out of station in Ooty. So we faxed the Governor.

So you sent a fax to the Governor with this request?

Yes, with a letter as well.

What did he say?

He did not disclose any decision after that. On the 7th, we sent him a reminder to Mumbai since he was there.

So you sent him a reminder asking why there was no response?

Yes.

Also Read: Why is Governor Refusing to Meet Me? Hope He Upholds Constitution, Says VK Sasikala

But still no intimation?

None

Didn't anyone from his Mumbai quarters inform any of you about why there was a delay?

We got no such information.

No acknowledgement either?

Yes, we got an acknowledgement of receipt.

But isn't it the practice to make the person the majority party elects as CM? So this is a deviation from standard procedure. Do you think there are political reasons behind this?

No, I don’t think so. As far as the Governor is concerned, I believe he will protect democracy and the constitutional process.

You say positively that the Governor will follow constitutional process. You are not insinuating anything against him. But he has not responded to you or explained the delay. This is raising questions in political circles.

Also Read: Panneerselvam Hacks into AIADMK IT Cell, Leaves With the Entire Team

As far as we are concerned, the majority of legislators from the majority party have elected me. So we are not worried.

So you're saying even if there are political mechanisations behind this, you will be patient.

Definitely.

In your party meeting, you praised Panneerselvam for being the timely aide of the party in times of need. Did you expect such an important functionary to raise such accusations?

In recent Assembly meetings, I observed some things clearly. Deputy Leader of Opposition Durai Murugan raised a point saying "OPS, you must be CM. We will support you". I thought Panneerselvam would respond to this. He could have said, “We are a majority. Why would we need your help?" But he didn't. That’s when our legislators decided it was time to make me CM.

Also Read: Panneerselvam Vs Sasikala: Here Are The Options Before TN Governor

Durai Murugan is a veteran leader. Maybe he wanted a constructive relationship between the government and the Opposition. Why would you come to a conclusion that this is politically motivated?

Their general behaviour is to oppose us. At one point of time, when Jayalalithaa was the Leader of Opposition, these very same people pulled her saree. They are our enemies. Why should they come to this decision suddenly? It’s not just me. Even party members feel that DMK meant we are here, we will take care of you. Only after that did they moved to make me CM. That’s what happened.

Even last night, you clamed that the DMK was behind Panneerselvam’s accusations. Is it right to blame them for what’s happening in your party?

You must understand from what MK Stalin (DMK Working President) said in his interview... He is trying to say ‘Panneerselvam will come back to power’. Their attitude doesn’t indicate that they look at him as AIADMK’s CM. As far as they are concerned, they are saying they will support Panneerselvam, which shows that they are backing him.

Keeping aside your interpretation of your political rival's moves, we can also see this as Panneerselvam feeling that he is not an AIAMDK CM, instead of the DMK looking at him that way.

We can see from the behaviour of a CM in Assembly… In the last four days of the Assembly, that was not apparent.

How will the Assembly be if you are CM?

It will be like how Amma functioned. I, too, will function the same way.

Are you saying the aggression in Assembly will continue?

Definitely.

Won’t you consider the opinion prevalent amongst some in TN that the government and Opposition must have a constructive relationship?

It's all about what we as a party do for the people who voted us to power. Whether it was the Cauvery issue, or the Gail pipe issue, Katchatheevu issue.... When the people of TN have a problem, the one who is resolute and firm in their stand was only Amma's government. Only AIADMK has done that. AIADMK is the only party that stands at the frontline as a shoulder to lean on for the Tamil people.

On that basis, we hate the DMK because... even Amma used to say the DMK failed the people on important issues when they were in power. Amma used to tell me that often.

So how can we assume that a DMK that is not people-friendly is our friend? We can’t do that because our views are completely different. There is no space for empathy here. Why do we need them when we are in power? They anyway did not do anything when they were in power.

We are with AIADMK General Secretary and Legislative Party Leader VK Sasikala. Last week, the AIADMK elected you as the leader of the party in Assembly and as the CM. In 2 -3 days, another meeting of the legislators was held. What was the need for two meetings in one week?

Yesterday, O Panneerselvam released a new version of the events. He sat at Amma Memorial and meditated. Then he said he was forced to sign off on my elevation. That allegation is not true. All AIADMK legislators were enraged and turned up at Poes Garden. With them, some 20,000-25,000 cadre also arrived.

As the party general secretary, I told them not to worry. ‘I am here, I will safeguard the party and take it on Amma’s path’, I told them. I reassured them that Amma's government will continue to work the Amma way in serving the people. After that they left. It was the loud voice of the cadre outside that brought me out to speak to them. I spoke to them as a mother and told them Amma will guide us.

Today, I went to the party headquarters where all (party) Assembly members and Rajya Sabha members assembled. We all discussed the situation. They said I should lead them, and asked ‘who is Panneerselvam’. I asked them not to worry and said we will take care of this.

We can also see this as a way of you exhibiting that the majority of AIADMK legislators are on your side. Also, Panneerselvam’s allegations of being threatened are making the headlines. You say they are untrue…

It is untrue. On February 5 at 2 pm, the meeting started. He (Panneerselvam) spoke to me well, which you must have seen on TN. No such incident happened. I don’t know why he said it, or who is behind this. It is still murky.

He says he was threatened and forced into signing his resignation and that he wasn’t even allowed to visit Jayalalithaa's memorial.

He never said anything of that sort. He met all the legislators and came with them only to the office. This happened on the 5th. He is saying all this on the 7th, two days later. As time goes by, we will all see who is behind all this.

You have been elected as the CM-designate. But no response has come from the Governor's side. From the AIADMK side, you have neither announced nor written saying that Panneerselvam has resigned and that it is your right to claim the post. Have you asked the Governor yet?

On February 5 at 2 pm, the legislators of our party unanimously elected me. We have all records to prove that. That evening itself, we went to the Governor’s bungalow. But they said he is out of station in Ooty. So we faxed the Governor.

So you sent a fax to the Governor with this request?

Yes, with a letter as well.

What did he say?

He did not disclose any decision after that. On the 7th, we sent him a reminder to Mumbai since he was there.

So you sent him a reminder asking why there was no response?

Yes.

But no intimation?

None

Didn't anyone from his Mumbai quarters inform any of you about why there was a delay?

No such information.

Acknowledgement?

Yes we got an acknowledgement of receipt.

But isn't it the practice to make the person the majority party elects as CM? So this is a deviation from standard procedure. Do you think there are political reasons behind this?

No, I don’t think so. As far as the Governor is concerned, I believe he will protect democracy and the constitutional process.

You say positively that the Governor will follow constitutional process. You are not insinuating anything against him. But he has not responded to you or explained the delay. This is raising questions in political circles.

As far as we are concerned, the majority of legislators from the majority party have elected me so we are not worried.

So you're saying even if there are political mechanisations behind this, you will be patient.

Definitely.

In your party meeting, you praised Panneerselvam for being the timely aide of the party in times of need. Did you expect such an important functionary to raise such accusations?

In recent Assembly meetings, I observed some things clearly. Deputy Leader of Opposition Durai Murugan raised a point saying "OPS, you must be CM. We will support you". I thought Panneerselvam would respond to this. He could have said "we are a majority. Why would we need your help?" But he didn't. That’s when our legislators decided it was time to make me CM.

Durai Murugan is a veteran leader. Maybe he wanted a constructive relationship between the government and the Opposition. Why would you come to a conclusion that this is politically motivated?

Their general behaviour is to oppose us. At one point of time, when Jayalalithaa was the Leader of Opposition, these very same people pulled her saree. They are our enemies. Why should they come to this decision suddenly? It’s not just me. Even party members feel that he meant we are here, we will take care of you. Only after that did they moved to make me CM. That’s what happened.

Is it fair to blame another party for your party's internal squabble? Even last night you clamed the DMK for all of Panneerselvam’s accusations. Is it right to blame them for what’s happening in your party?

You must understand from what Stalin said in his interview... He is trying to say ‘Panneerselvam will come back to power’. Their attitude doesn’t indicate that they look at him as AIADMK’s CM. As far as they are concerned, they are saying we will support Panneerselvam, which shows that they are backing him.

Keeping aside your interpretation of your political rival's moves, we can also see this as Panneerselvam feeling that he is not an AIAMDK CM, instead of the DMK looking at him that way.

We can see from the behaviour of a CM in Assembly… In the last four days of the Assembly, that was not apparent.

How will the Assembly be if you are CM?

It will be like how Amma functioned. I, too, will function the same way.

Are you saying the aggression in Assembly will continue?

Definitely.

Won’t you consider the opinion prevalent amongst some in TN that the government and Opposition must have a constructive relationship?

It's all about what we as a party do for the people who voted us to power. Whether it was the Cauvery issue, or the Gail pipe issue, Katchatheevu issue.... When the people of TN have a problem, the one who is resolute and firm in their stand was only Amma's government. Only AIADMK has done that. AIADMK is the only party that stands at the frontline as a shoulder to lean on for the Tamil people.

On that basis, we hate the DMK because... even Amma used to say the DMK failed the people on important issues when they were in power. Amma used to tell me that often.

So how can we assume that a DMK that is not people-friendly is our friend? We can’t do that because our views are completely different. There is no space for empathy here. Why do we need them when we are in power? They anyway did not do anything when they were in power.

One of the much spoken about topics is the medical treatment given to Jayalalithaa. Medical teams and Dr. Beale have given their version. But they have not cleared the suspicions of the people. Now, Panneerselvam says there should be a probe and that he wasn’t allowed to see Jayalalithaa during her treatment. What is your response to this?

I spent 33 years with Amma in this (Poes Garden) house. Only the people here know how I cared for her. The party cadre know that too. In such times, saying such things feels like they are plotting to spread rumors. As far as I am concerned, for the 75 days that I was at the hospital, the doctors and nurses know how I cared for her. I don’t care what anyone else says outside. My conscience is clear. The grief of losing her is something only I know. I don’t want to say out loud how I cared for her every minute. Such is my relationship with her. I don’t care what the DMK says. I can’t bear that Panneerselvam, who was with us all these days, wants a probe. That is what hurts me. I am pained by what kind of a traitor he has turned out to be. Amma's treatment is an open book. Doctors from AIIMS came and saw her. We are not afraid so we called them here. A doctor from London came. Physiotherapists from Singapore came. That afternoon also we gave her physiotherapy. The doctors came and spoke to her regularly. She even watched TV. We used to watch Hanuman on TV, so I got them to record it and bring it. She'd watch 2-3 episodes every day. She used to love black and white songs. We used to play them for her. That month, I wanted to bring her home on the 29th. In such a situation, when Panneerselvam said such a thing, I realized that he had been bought off by politics, and that is what pained me. No matter how many (probe) commissions they make, I don’t care. Panneerselvam is what he is today because of this party that he is now disgracing. Isn’t that betrayal of Amma? That is what pains me. Nothing else.

Panneerselvam, PH Pandian...

When MGR died, do you know how they behaved? They opposed Amma then. But when you are a leader, you can’t push people away. That’s why we brought them back into our fold. But again, they seem to be going back to their old ways. Some changes are happening in their behavior which we think is normal, so we don’t care. For us, we are one party, one family.

You have told us how Jayalalithaa’s death and treatment affected you. Only you can authentically tell the cadre and the people, what happened since the day of admission. They say she was admitted late.

That is wrong. I called the duty DSP here first to help, and we rushed her there. Even the doctors said you have brought her very quickly. That’s what they said first. That’s what they told me at 3 am that night. So all this is false.

So are you ready for any probe?

I don’t care. As far as I am concerned, my sister... she knows. She knows how I took care of her. The people around me at the hospital know.

We have met on an important day. It could determine Tamil Nadu’s political future and alter your life. The disproportionate assets case verdict is due in a week. Political analysts say there is a link between the case and your swearing-in being delayed. Do you concur? How do you think the verdict will play out?

I respect the courts. The case sub-judice. We should not speculate.

This is your first interview. People in Tamil Nadu knew your voice only the day you first spoke in the general meeting. Your past, your present, the cases and accusations against you, your relationship with Jayalalithaa, your closeness, her influence on you, all these are yet to be discussed. I request you to meet me again soon so we can resume this conversation. We see that you are in a tight spot and many challenges await you, but are you clear that you will become the CM?

Definitely, I will be the CM. I will fulfill all the wishes Amma had for the people of TN.

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