Sasikala beats odds to become AIADMK chief, but dangers lurk
- Sasikala Natarajan has been made chief secretary of the AIADMK in a unanimous resolution.
- TN CM O Paneerselvam announced her appointment, indicating the party is united.
- Sasikala faces a bevy of challenges, including court cases and intimidation from the Centre.
Barely five years after she was expelled from the AIADMK by then party supremo J Jayalalithaa, life seems to have turned full circle for Sasikala Natarajan. She was appointed the party’s general secretary in a unanimous resolution on December 29.
Since its founding, the AIADMK has never seemingly had a succession plan, be it in the MGR era or post-Jayalalithaa. From being Jayalalithaa’s veritable shadow, Sasikala, or Chinamma as she is called, has calibrated her rise to be the most powerful woman in Tamil Nadu.
We take a look at some of the issues that Sasikala will face in the days ahead:
Minimum qualification to contest for general secretary: According to Section 30 of the AIADMK constitution, any party functionary contesting for the post of general secretary should have been in the party for five years continuously. As we know, Sasikala was expelled from the party and readmitted in March 2012. That makes her current membership tenure four-and-half years as of now. Despite a case objecting to Chinnamma’s nomination, the general council meet boldly passed a resolution seeking that Sasikala hold the party chief’s mantle. Chief Minister O Paneerselvam said that she will be the General Secretary for now until a new person is elected later. Remember later indicates March 2017, when Sasikala will have completed five years as a member.
Resentment among party cadres: Only half the eligible members of the General Council, who are Sasikala supporters, were the only ones invited for the General Council meet. This is evidence that a large section of the party cadres are unhappy over Sasikala’s rise. The tension boiled over as the husband of a key rebel, Sasikala Pushpa, was thrashed outside the party’s headquarters in Chennai on December 28.
IT raids to intimidate party: IT raids are usually associated with grave economic offenses, so the recent raid on the state’s chief secretary has raised eyebrows. The official, P. Rama Mohana Rao, who was handpicked by Jayalalithaa, criticised the Central Government for the action, perhaps in a indirect message of defiance from Sasikala that the party wouldn’t be rattled.
Judicial issues: While dealing with a petition that raised suspicions over the nature of Jayalalithaa’s death, Justice Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court agreed that there were suspicions about the leader’s demise. While the Justice only made an observation and didn’t provide a legal opinion, the remark will be used as ammunition by Sasikala’s rivals.
Despite the impediments Sasikala faces, her political acumen cannot be underestimated. Given her long association with Jayalalithaa, going back to the 1980s, she has the backing of the party’s senior leaders and is expected to spearhead the party. Unless there is a crippling legal setback, the AIADMK is set to surge forward under Sasikala’s leadership.
While it impossible to predict the future of the party, it is interesting to hark back to a quote by Jayalalithaa: “The AIADMK has always worked for the people. Whoever comes after me ... even a 100 years later ... AIADMK will continue to be a people’s party.”