Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK seems to be toning down its aggressive stance against former boss VK Sasikala – around four years after it ousted her. Ever since her release from jail a few days ago, her proteges-turned-baiters have largely stayed silent on her, stray remarks aside. This may reflect a re-calibration of the party’s stance in the run up to the state assembly polls, given that she continues to enjoy political heft among key sections of Tamil Nadu voters.
Yet, it is also increasingly apparent that her nephew and legislator, TTV Dhinakaran, is on the firing line.
A close aide of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, and a known power centre till their conviction in a disproportionate assets case, Ms Sasikala returned only a few days ago to Chennai after serving her prison term in the case in Bengaluru.
Her return, only three months before the state goes to polls, was marked by a visible show of power, with hundreds gathered to welcome her return – both in Bengaluru and in Tamil Nadu. She flaunted the AIADMK flag on her car despite opposition by the ruling party, even as she called for a united fight.
Ms Sasikala, known as Chinnamma (aunt) among her supporters, was in 2017 ousted as General Secretary of the party along with her deputy Mr Dhinakaran, after its rival factions led by former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS) and incumbent Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) decided to join forces.
Mr Panneerselvam was Ms Jayalalithaa’s go-to man who temporarily replaced her every time she had to step down as Chief Minister for legal reasons following convictions. Though following her death in 2016, Mr Panneerselvam was made Chief Minister, Mr Palaniswami, handpicked by Ms Sasikala just before going to jail, unseated him.
However, months later both patched up and ousted her. Videos of the present Chief Minister prostrating before Ms Sasikala are still in circulation – a stark reminder of the party’s complex recent political history.
Given this background, Chinnamma‘s return was expected to set off fireworks. But that is not what is happening, at least on the face of it.
Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar yesterday denied going soft on her saying, “No, no. We are totally against their family.” But that’s about it.
Yet, Chief Minister Palaniswami recently slammed her nephew. “TTV Dhinakaran was not in the party for ten years. When Amma (Ms Jayalalithaa) was around, he was removed from its primary membership. Due to circumstances, he re-joined. He is conspiring now. AIADMK will never accept. How many ever avatars he takes, Dhinakaran will not be able to capture the party,” he said.
Law Minister CV Shanmugam even had a word of advice for Ms Sasikala, his former political boss: “I’m cautioning Ms Sasikala. Save yourself from Dhinakaran.”
There may be electoral considerations behind this shifting stance.
The AIADMK, allied with the BJP, fared poorly in the 2019 Lok Sabha Election, which took place after Ms Sasikala’s ouster from the party.
After all, she comes from the Thevar community, a key vote bank in southern Tamil Nadu. The section is perceived to have suffered a blow on her being jailed, giving Mr Palaniswami’s Gounders an upper hand. With her return, the Thevars may look for a redressal.
“OPS and EPS will come and fall at her (Ms Sasikala’s) feet. That will happen,” said Dr Ram Karthik, a functionary of the Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam, a party Mr Dhinakaran formed in 2018 following his ouster from AIADMK.
Ms Sasikala herself cannot contest for six years, given her conviction for corruption, Mr Dhinakaran could scuttle the Chief Minister’s prospects. Hence the re-calibration on the AIADMK’s part.
However, is it possible to be friends with Ms Sasikala and keep her nephew away?