It is now likely that VK Sasikala – close associate of the late J Jayalalithaa – who was convicted in the disproportionate assets case, will be released from prison by February 2021. This will get her out just in time for the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, scheduled to be held in May 2021.
But what impact can ‘Chinna Amma’ (younger Amma) – as Sasikala is known in the AIADMK – have on a post-Karunanidhi, post-Jayalalithaa AND post-COVID Tamil Nadu politics?
As per section 8(3) of the Representation of Peoples Act 1951, Sasikala, even after her release, is barred from contesting an election for six more years. This means she can only campaign, be actively involved in decisions, but cannot be a candidate herself.
But that does not stop her from trying to taking charge of the AIADMK and the groundwork, for that is likely to be laid well before her release by her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who has vowed to take charge of the party upon her release.
Why It’ll Be Tough For Palanisamy To Hold Out Against Sasikala
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palanisamy and his supporters have declared that they will not allow her back into the party, but it will tough to hold out against Sasikala. Given the fact that the term of the government is about to end, the ruling faction has little hold over MLAs or the party itself.
The fact that Sasikala has served a jail term is bound to further a sympathy factor with a large section of the cadre. It is well known that Chief Minister E Palanisamy, who was chosen by Sasikala for the post after Jayalalithaa’s demise, had turned against her – and that adds to the sentiment.
In fact, a recent video circulated on social media shows how the chief minster repeatedly fell at Sasikala’s feet when she had announced his name for the job.
While she was once blamed for all that went wrong with J Jayalalithaa and the party, the present narrative is that she is the only one who paid the price and was betrayed by the ruling dispensation. This sentiment, and the fact that she is the one person who can strongly evoke the emotion of J Jayalalithaa’s memory in election season with the cadre.
Sasikala also enjoys the loyalty of several senior and mid-level leaders of the party and belongs to the Thevar caste, which has a strong hold over the party – and these sections are likely to back her to the hilt.
Here’s Why BJP May Back Sasikala
The real X factor in the Sasikala story is the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Her early release from prison is being attributed, at least by some observers, to support from the BJP which is in power in Karnataka and at the centre. This speculation was further strengthened after a tweet from a BJP leader in July 2020 that she will be released early.
It works for the BJP to have a strong leader, and one who is indebted to it and depends on it for survival at the helm of the AIADMK – which is why the BJP may give Sasikala covert backing to take charge of the party.
Sasikala may not have any track record of leading a party in an election, oratory or even appeal with the electorate, but neither does the present leadership of the AIADMK.
Under the present circumstances, she seems a more powerful leader, in terms of persona and sentiment, than the rest.
Why BJP Needs An Alliance With AIADMK
Further, the BJP needs an alliance with the AIADMK, and there are sections in AIADMK which want to walk away from the national party. It serves the BJP to have Sasikala in charge if it can keep her under check, and hence, gain from the AIADMK vote base to build its foothold in Tamil Nadu.
In a battle between the DMK projecting itself as the custodian of Dravidian values against Hindutva which is seen as a threat to Tamil ethos, the AIADMK seems to have become a non-entity. It is also becoming clear that superstar Rajinikanth may not be an active player in the coming elections.
Hence, the need for a strong personality in the AIADMK who can consolidate the AIADMK core vote base, preventing it from fragmenting to other regional parties.
Even if the AIADMK does not win the 2021 assembly elections, if the party can hold itself together and give the BJP a boost in a state where it is a marginal player, it will fit into the BJP’s long-term strategy.
In any case, it serves the BJP better to have a Stalin vs Sasikala narrative rather than a Dravidian vs Hindutva battle, where the Tamil sentiment goes against the Saffron ambition.
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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