Tamil Nadu politics has taken an unpredictable turn in the past week, with both Sasikala, the general secretary of the AIADMK, staking claim on the chief ministership — despite O.P. Panneerselvam, who was appointed chief minister after Amma’s death, revolting against her.
During MGR’s hospitalization in the US, Sasikala, who hailed from Mannargudi, had taken over the running of the house in Poes Garden and had become an emotionally exhausted Jayalalithaa’s confidante. She was the wife of Natarajan, a state government employee, who must have seen the advantage of his wife befriending Jayalalithaa even before the latter plunged into active politics.
Sasikala used to videotape events and ran a video shop in Poes Garden from where Jayalalithaa got movie cassettes to watch at home. She managed to gain entry into Poes Garden, probably by convincing Jayalalithaa that she needed someone to take care of her, and she could be her housekeeper and caretaker…
The relationship between Jayalalithaa and Sasikala has not only been a mystery, but has also been responsible for a lot of resentment among those who were once Jayalalithaa’s most faithful supporters. Jayalalithaa, who had distanced herself from her only brother, her relatives and friends, now declared that Sasikala was her udanpiravaa sagothari, a sister ‘though not born from the same womb’. Party workers believed that Sasikala and her entourage at Poes Garden had erected an iron curtain that kept them away from their ‘thalaivi’. They felt their requests for appointments and their personal letters no longer reached her. She had stopped coming to the party office, and stopped meeting the district secretaries who would inform her of ground realities. Amma had changed.
What was it about Sasikala that made the aloof and reserved Jayalalithaa trust her so completely? Jayalalithaa had longed for a normal life of marriage and children, which she was not destined to have. Now at least there was a friend who heard her woes with sympathy. Who did not question her actions. Who did not argue with her. Who had taken on the responsibility of running her house and who did not advise her on matters of state. It was annoying, therefore, when people said that Sasikala was behind her many political decisions. It was not only an insult to her as the chief minister but also utter rubbish.
One reason given for Jayalalithaa’s crushing defeat in the May 1996 Assembly elections was the excesses committed by Sasikala and her coterie. In a lengthy interview to The Hindu, after her humiliating defeat, and after Sasikala had been dramatically arrested by the Karunanidhi government and sent to jail for violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), Jayalalithaa categorically denied the allegations and staunchly defended her friend. ‘Sasikala never functioned as an extra-constitutional power centre. People must understand that a politician also needs someone to look after his or her home. A male politician has a wife at home and a woman politician has a husband or brother to take care of her personal matters. I have no one. It is only because Sasikala stepped in to take care of my household that I was able to devote my full attention to politics.
‘After MGR’s death, I went through a very traumatic phase and I had no one at home here to help me with anything. So at that time Sasikala and Natarajan offered to help. So I accepted their help in good faith. They both came to live here.’
Her long-time and loyal household staff were replaced by the couple’s own people. They also brought in the Grey Cats security personnel for her personal safety. Natarajan was given charge of handling her finances. In Jayalalithaa’s own words, ‘But very soon Natarajan overstepped his limits and I did not like his high-handed ways and interference. So I asked him to leave my house. But Sasikala opted to stay with me. This was one full year before I became the chief minister. Natarajan has not stepped into this house again. Sasikala has sacrificed her whole life in order to be with me and give me moral support and take care of me. In fact, there was an occasion when she saved my life. It is because of her that I am alive and was able to lead the party to a tremendous victory in 1991…’
After Sasikala entered Jayalalithaa’s life, most of those who had been loyal to her gradually drifted away.
Sasikala had become Jayalalithaa’s alter ego.
A seasoned journalist believes that it is a financial web in which both are caught. ‘Sasikala is now a woman who knows too much. Jayalalithaa cannot wish her away.’
To continue reading Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, go here: https://goo.gl/QOXUIF