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Sasikala: Case of Being Near Yet So Far

In Tamil Nadu, the Kallars are considered a warrior caste, brave people who were expert at soldering and constituted the bulk of the ancient Chola and Pandian armies. They, along with two other warrior communities – the Maravars and Agamudaiyars – constitute the Kshatriya segment of the Tamil population. The three together are referred to as Mukkulathor which roughly means the trinity of warrior clans.

Of the 700-odd surnames of the Kallars, a well-known surname is Thevar. The Lady of Mannargudi, Sasikala Natarajan, is a Kallar and locally called a Thevar. They also constitute the support base of the AIADMK. Till now.

The historical background was given to me to make me understand that Sasikala is a warrior: She will not yield until she gets her way at any cost.

So much has happened in the last two days. On Monday, the AIADMK MLAs were called for a meeting. They arrived an hour early. Later, there would be an unsubstantiated rumor floating around that Rs. 2 crores in cash was given as a present to each legislator. The rumor remained a rumor, an allegation. Anyway, the legislators wasted no time telling Chinnamma that she was their leader, that she could be the chief minister too. The meeting ended on that note.

The same day, the state government called a press conference addressed by Dr Richard Beale. He was the specialist called in from the UK at government expense to check on Jayalalithaa. The press conference, called two months after Amma’s death, was ostensible to clear all doubts about the manner of her death. Dr. Beale had no statement to make; rather, he was there to answer questions. Any and all questions. That raised more eyebrows than ever about lingering doubts.

Dr. Beale did not succeed in killing all speculation over her death. In fact on Tuesday, they were re-fueled by one of the senior-most AIADMK leaders, PH Pandian, who suspected Jaya may have been pushed by “someone” over an argument following which she had to be hospitalised and that she never recovered. Draw your own conclusions, Pandian seemed to say without substantiating anything.

He was immediately seen as the face of the hitherto amorphous opposition to Sasikala becoming chief minister. There is no groundswell of the protesters, but the murmurs are there. They are not dying out.

Chinnamma has her hand full of worries. The MLAs are with her today and tomorrow and till she assures the safety of their current term and is expansive in her largesse. She is not as sure if the party and party cadres are with her. That’s where the murmurs are coming from. She clearly knows PH Pandian is not among her well-wishers. After all, wasn’t it said that she had allegedly nudged him, a Nadar, away from the Jaya camp and replaced him with his bette noire, Nianar Nagendran, from her own caste, to handle political affairs of Thirunalveli – the battle ground of both men! (Nagendran strangely lost the 2016 election from that constituency by a few hundred votes and he has been blaming you-know-who.) Along with Pandian, there’s another senior leader, Panruti S. Ramachandran, that Sasikala will have to convince if she has to have an unchallenged command of the party cadres.

Then there is the looming headache of the local body elections in Tamil Nadu. They were to have been held in October last year, around the time when Jaya was in the hospital. The AIADMK leadership — some put the blame on Sasikala – thought the sympathy vote would ensure in a big victory for the ruling party. The DMK did not like the idea and approached the high court which stayed the elections. Thereafter they were to have been held before December, 2016, but then Amma died and the state and the government went into a limbo. They are still there. With the protests growing against Sasikala, she is the last person to hold these elections anytime in the near future, if only to stave off a wipeout. She will nevertheless have to cross that particular bridge because the courts are involved.

The biggest problem, for her, of course, is the pending Supreme Court verdict. The verdict relates to the acquittal of Amma and Chinnamma in the disproportionate assets case against them. The verdict no longers matters to Amma. But what about Chinnamma? Unless the verdict goes in her favour, her chances of becoming the chief minister or remaining chief minister are nearly zero. So, that needs to be given serious thought to. She would only hope there are no more skeletons in her cupboard.

Then there is the Modi government at the Centre. The BJP has been watching the happenings quite closely. In fact, two ministers of the Modi government are quite well versed with the happenings in Chennai and specifically, Poes Garden. As a political party trying to expand its imprint in Tamil Nadu, the BJP will naturally be keen to explore all possibilities – whatever they may be. However, come July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will certainly appreciate the support of the AIADMK – 50 MPs and 134 MLAs – for his bid to push the name of the BJP’s candidate to succeed President Pranab Mukherjee. That certainly needs a lot of political give and take.

Finally, the year 2021 is so far away that it dims all speculation on whether Sasikala succeeds in retaining the AIADMK as an undivided political party till then. That is the year when she if she continues to be the leader, will lead the party to face the Hustings. There’s the general election in 2019 to tell her what the stars have in store for her.

But all that seems far away when the cup is still a distance away from the lip.