On October 16, eight months after her grand road show and return from Bengaluru to Chennai, Sasikala would renew her political journey, one that was cut short by her conviction in 2017 in the disproportionate assets case. On October 16, she will visit the memorials of former chief ministers Jayalalithaa, M G Ramachandran and C N Annadurai. The fight for custody of the AIADMK is bound to overshadow the AIADMK’s golden jubilee celebrations.
Sasikala is set to visit MGR’s T Nagar residence and Ramavaram Gardens where she would garland the statue of the leader that she unveiled in 2017, probably signalling her comeback to active politics. While many of her loyalists were expelled by the AIADMK, the close-aide of Jayalalithaa continues to stay in the limelight with the erstwhile AIADMK organ Dr Namadhu MGR, now in the hands of her nephew, AMMK leader T T V Dhinakaran, publishing her telephone conversations with loyalists. “She continues to receive calls from across the state, mostly disgruntled cadres annoyed by the dual leadership and their weakened positions within the party. The calls are from Erode and Tirupur in the western belt (considered the turf of EPS),” said a close associate. Sasikala had spoken to the cadres of Edappadi too, the native of former CM EPS, who has emerged as her biggest adversary.
Sasikala will follow up her memorial visit with a tour of the state. Though no firm plans have been announced, Sasikala had made it clear during her ‘cadre outreach’ that she would not remain a mute spectator when the cadres are distressed by the ‘goings on’ within the party. In the AIADMK, the EPS camp in particular, is quite smug about its assembly election performance without Jayalalithaa and Sasikala to steer them. It has been firm about keeping ‘the outsiders’ at bay. Having lost a straight third win by a margin of only 20 lakh votes, the AIADMK won 66 seats, 35 of which are in the Kongu-western region.
For his part, OPS has sought to remain accommodative when it comes to Sasikala, to checkmate the EPS camp and have his say in the party. Sasikala had visited OPS to condole the death of his wife, P Vijayalakshmi, last month in Chennai.
C Ponnaiyan, one of the founding members of the AIADMK and former minister, said the 1.5 crore cadres of the party would be the deciding factor. “We have been getting along well without Sasikala. Where is the question of reinducting her into the party?” said the senior leader. He pointed out that the AMMK could not win even a single seat in the assembly election. “As long as the ‘two leaves’ symbol remains and MGR’s name and fame continues, no split will harm the AIADMK. This has been our experience,” said Ponnaiyan.
But EPS and OPS are no match for MGR, and sustaining the party under a dual leadership could prove a mighty challenge. There is distrust between the two leaders and their co-existence is a necessity. “The two leaders realise they need each other to hold the party reins tight. Any loosening of the grip could mean the end of their leadership role,” said a senior leader.
Recalling the events leading to MGR floating the AIADMK on October 17, 1972, former minister H V Hande, who was elected MLA of Swatantra Party in 1971 from Park Town, said, “It is indeed a tough job for OPS and EPS now.” Hande had served as health minister in MGR’s cabinet and had closely observed the matinee idol evolve as a charismatic and successful politician.
After MGR’s death in 1987, the party suffered a split. Hande, the then deputy general secretary of the AIADMK, sided with Jayalaltihaa. Another deputy general secretary, S Ragavanandam stood by Janaki Ramachandran faction. The dispute got the election commission freezing the two-leaves symbol. After Janaki withdrew from politics and Jayalalithaa regained the united AIADMK and the ‘two leaves’ symbol, they proved a formidable rival for the DMK. Sasikala has often recalled the 1987 split and the subsequent reunion of the factions during her recent conversations with party cadres to drive home the point that she would repeat what her friend Jayalalithaa did.
Former AIADMK MP K C Palanisamy says the absence of tall leaders in the party today is telling. “The party continues to be troubled by a power tussle. Palaniswami seems to have got the backing of the BJP. So, Panneerselvam has to be friends with him. Sasikala has neither the support of the BJP nor EPS. The cadres are upset. And the party is riddled with contradictions and divided by caste allegiances, something unheard of during the MGR and Jayalalithaa days,” said Palanisamy.
Now, with the Kodanad investigation gaining momentum and EPS being dragged into the murky centre of the heist-cummurder thriller, agonising days are ahead for the 50-year-old AIADMK.