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V K Sasikala, who wielded enormous power as aide of former chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, begins her struggle to gain control of the party with a week-long tour of her home turf, the Thevar-dominated southern districts of Tamil Nadu. While arch rival former CM Edappadi K Palaniswami seeks to cling on to the Gounder belt, Sasikala, who belongs to the Thevar community, will be on home ground in an attempt to counter the order of Palaniswami against meetings with her, warning such members of immediate expulsion from the party.   

Her participation in the Thevar Jayanthi at Pasumpon in southern Ramanathapuram will revive the Thevar sentiment in the party and help them recoup themselves against the Gounder onslaught. For more than 30 years, Sasikala ensured a vice-like grip in the party and in the government when she ensured that Thevars occupied key positions not only in the ministry but also collectorates, police headquarters, state secretariat and offices in the districts. Sasikala had then ensured that the ministers’ PAs were her spies and constantly provided reports on the activities of ministers.

No one dared question her. Any attempt to do so was followed by an immediate change in the cabinet.

None in the party or the government could meet Jaya without getting an okay from Sasikala. The latter built an impregnable fortress around Amma, and became the Chinnamma who drove both the party and the government.

It is now a sea-change as Sasikala struggles to ensure a place for herself in the party even as Palaniswami and a handful of his supporters from four or five Gounder-dominated districts in the western belt of the State are hell-bent on blocking every move of hers.

 Sasikala was prevented from visiting the Jayalalithaa samadhi or Amma’s Poes Garden residence.

 However, Sasikala has now opened up a new route with party co-ordinator O Panneerselvam cosying up to her in a bid to overthrow Palaniswami and company from key positions in the AIADMK. OPS believes Sasikala needs only a foot in the door to make a dramatic entry at the party headquarters in Chennai. Once that happens, Sasikala would count on support from elements who drew sustenance from her in the party. Once inside the party headquarters, Sasikala would turn things round, and Palaniswami would have to run for cover, this section believes.

 After the drubbing in the recent rural local body polls in nine districts of the State, Sasikala feels that the time is ripe to strengthen her efforts to take charge, as the cadres miss a strong personality at the top. The Sasikala supporters reason that she alone is capable of re-building the party with MGR and Jaya loyalists, and providing the leadership it needs.

It was Sasikala who was the brain behind various crucial moves of the AIADMK. After the defeat of the various factions in 1989, Sasikala reached out to the V N Janaki group and brought about unity between the two sections, ultimately resulting in the return of the party’s two-leaves symbol and estranged partymen. It was again Sasikala who suggested to Jaya to meet TMC leader GK Moopanar and thus came about the crucial alliance that brought her back to power in 2001. Similarly, she negotiated with Vijayakanth, leader of the DMDK, and brought him into the alliance with AIADMK which was the crucial factor in the 2011 victory. Of course, in all these moves, one could see the hand of her husband Natarajan, but it was obvious that the duo brought about success for the party after every crisis.

 Left to herself, Jaya was not keen on such alliances and believed that the people were waiting to vote her back to power in the next elections anyway. It was Sasikala’s pragmatism and native wisdom that pulled Jayalalithaa out of every crisis and brought her back to power.

Sections in the AIADMK want Sasikala back for this very reason. Palaniswami and co., have not been able to strike out strategic alliances or win new friends. In fact, Palaniswami’s stock is so low in the political firmament that even its existing allies like the DMDK quit the front, and paved the way for a spectacular show by the DMK in the local body elections. At the moment, the AIADMK is left with only one ally, the BJP, which is looking for ways to strengthen its own party and become a major player in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu.

Sasikala, desperate to escape from the long arm of the law in the form of cases filed against her and her relatives by the Enforcement Directorate, Income-Tax department and so on  over 20 years ago, has been able to get on to the BJP bandwagon. This was why BJP’s national leaders were urging the AIADMK to include Sasikala in the party and provide some seats to the breakaway group, the AMMK led by her nephew TTV Dinakaran. 

The AIADMK has lost the Dalit vote in a big way in the last three years ever since Palaniswami took control of the AIADMK, thrusting the Gounder leaders on the party. The Dalits had been a traditional vote-bank for the AIADMK, particularly during the days of MGR. The Dalits began moving away from the AIADMK due to the Sasikala-Jaya-Thevar domination in the party.

The AIADMK has now swung the other way, with Palaniswami crushing the Thevar leadership in the southern districts, where Dalits, the other major force, had already drifted away from the AIADMK. Thus, the AIADMK faces a serious crisis in the non-Gounder belt where the major communities other than the Gounders do not have proper representation or space.   

It is from this context, that sources close to OPS have been maintaining that Sasikala must be brought back to the party, and bring about a resurgence in the non-western belt.  Palaniswami is well aware that she could be useful but doesn’t want to yield space to her as he fears it would only a question of time before he is eased out.

The knives are out as the Thevars and the Gounders are locked in a tussle while anxious partymen wonder if a Messiah could emerge from somewhere to save the AIADMK.


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