Chennai: One of the first public signs that a blood relation of Jayalalithaa walked among us was, in fact, a surreal moment in time.
It happened when the Lady herself was gasping for breath inside the Apollo Hospital in the fall of 2016. It was a somewhat atypical Chennai December: there was a slight nip in the otherwise all-the-time sultry air. News of a health deterioration filtered through the gates and it raised tempers outside the hospital. A posse of lensmen stood jostling, watched annoyingly by policemen worried about the growing disorder outside the gates. Slowly, a barricade was overturned.
In that chaotic setting walked Deepa Jayakumar, purposefully, wearing in a pink salwar-kameez and shrouded protectively by the arms of her husband Madhavan. She looked uncannily like Jayalalithaa. Much so to the agitated eyes waiting outside the hospital for their Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) to revive and rule.
Party folks and media personnel were taken aback as Deepa pushed her way through to the gates, requesting the police guards to allow her in. At that time, it was VK Sasikala calling the shots from inside the hospital, and AIADMK ministers, including the current Chief Minister EK Palaniswami, had to wait for orders.
Turned away, she made her way back literally ploughing through a mass of party supporters who had caught sight of her. She responded positively, vowing that a true AIADMK leader will emerge.
That was clearly the first time Deepa Jayakumar made a mark in a public sphere. Days and weeks after, Deepa and Deepak her brother, would turn out to be on the news several times, sometimes making bold remarks about the political establishment and leadership at the AIADMK. But, overtime, it became more or less clear that both were reluctant in their political avatars, if it can be called that, and quite unsure and impulsive in the face of seasoned veterans in the Dravidian land.
Deepa Jayakumar had worked as a sub-editor with an English newspaper in Chennai before pursuing a course in journalism at the Cardiff University. Soft-spoken and with a smiling visage, Deepa can come across as firm and cutting at times, when the semblance to her aunt emerges.
In an interview to CNN-News18, in December 2016, Deepa had clearly asserted her right to Veda Nilayam and blamed Sasikala for elbowing her family out of Jayalalithaa’s inner circle.
Deepak Jayakumar, surprisingly had appeared pragmatic and seemed to take the side of Sasikala, even as Deepa kept firing salvos at her. The siblings, in hindsight, appeared vaguely oblivious to their own political amateurishness.
In fits and starts, their political careers slowly withered but their penchant for appearing before the news television camera and theatricality never ebbed.
Deepa Jayakumar had arrived at the side of AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam when he orchestrated a coup against the might of VK Sasikala in the AIADMK. As Panneerselvam’s attempt was foiled, Deepa slowly faded into political wilderness. Her brother had rarely kept any facade to be a public figure.
For instance, Deepa arrived at the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa, apparently invited by her brother, and had a public showdown with her brother. She was denied entry and, instead, had a public spat with her brother. In the hullabaloo, a news correspondent with a national TV channel got assaulted.
The siblings were not to be seen in public eye for a while, even as the nephew of VK Sasikala, TTV Dhinakaran, started to draw a lot of political firepower. The AIADMK itself was churning, split into at least three factions led by Panneerselvam. Palaniswami and the outlying contender TTV Dhinakaran. With so many moving parts, Deepa and Deepak were quietly forgotten, lest they presented their views on TV interviews. Deepa Jayakumar tried to form her own political outfit, the MGR Amma Deepa Peravai, but it petered out as quickly as it came.
The siblings now stand to inherit assets of Jayalalithaa, as ruled by a bench of the Madras High Court. The Court had also suggested putting the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa to other uses than converting it into a memorial. With political hopes long gone, the bloodline of J Jayalalithaa stand to inherit her estate, for now.