Always seen as a shadow of Jayalalithaa and never heard in public, V K Sasikala on Thursday emerged as her political heir to lead AIADMK which has had hugely charismatic figures at its helm in all its 45 years.
Blamed once for Jayalalithaa’s disastrous election loss in 1996, the 60-year-old, who was a video library owner before getting close to the late leader, was always considered having a clout in the running of the party.
Having accompanied Jayalalithaa to prison when arrested in a disproportionate assets case, Sasikala’s roller-coaster career saw her being expelled for anti-party activities only to be restored in a few months five years ago.
Jayalalithaa’s demise on December 5 was seen as a personal loss for Sasikala who was a permanent resident of Jayalalithaa’s house Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden, even choosing to stay away from her husband. She continued to be by Jayalalithaa’s side when she was hospitalised on September 22 that stoked some controversies, including that access to the ailing leader was not being allowed even to her kin.
Sasikala belongs to the dominant Thevar community which also is said to have played a major role in O Panneerselvam, who is also from the same community, becoming the stop-gap Chief Minister whenever Jayalalithaa had to step down and even after her death.
An aspiring small-time entrepreneur offering video coverage services and allied products like video cassettes in the early 1980s, she got acquainted with Jayalalithaa in 1982 along with her husband M Natarajan through the then IAS officer VS Chandraleka.
When Jayalalithaa was organising a party conference in Cuddalore in 1982 – a new entrant to AIADMK then, it was Sasikala who had got the event video-graphed. Similarly, she had got covered several of the party functions of Jayalalithaa which was the beginning of their association. Sasikala or ‘Chinnamma’ as she was later called remained a wall of support for Jayalalithaa through thick and thin over the next three decades.
In her much televised 1999 interview Rendezvous with Simi Garewal, Jayalalithaa had said Sasikala was targeted much because of her association with her. She had even praised Sasikala as a “sister” who fulfilled the role of her late mother by taking care of her. This has been quoted by supporters of Sasikala to claim legitimacy to her ascending the top party post.
As early as 1989, through 1990 and 1991, many relatives of Sasikala began actively participating in AIADMK activities and several of them were seen supporting Jayalalithaa in protests organised by AIADMK then.
Sasikala caught the attention of media only after Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time in 1991.
It was only in 1995, when Jayalalithaa declared Sasikala’s nephew VN Sudhakaran as her foster son and got his infamously extravagant wedding conducted did the clout that Sasikala enjoyed with the party chief come to the fore.
Having graduated as Jayalalithaa’s trusted aide, Sasikala was also reportedly taking part in party affairs. She was jailed along with Jayalalithaa in the alleged colour TV scam in 1996. The relationship between the two also came in for criticism from political opponents due to Sasikala’s kin allegedly having a say in party affairs.
Sudhakaran, whom Jayalalithaa had declared as her foster son, was later disowned by her and Sasikala’s husband and a host of other relatives also fell out of favour.
In early 1980s, Sasikala’s husband Natarjan was a government PRO in Cuddalore with strong moorings in Dravidian ideology.
After the rout of AIADMK in 1996, Jayalalithaa announced that she was severing ties with Sasikala and later in 2011 she was expelled along with her husband Natarajan and 12 other relatives. However, on both occasions they patched up and Sasikala resumed living in Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence after assuring the AIADMK chief that she would keep away from her relatives.
Their relationship, which saw several ups and downs, has culminated in Sasikala taking over the mantle of AIADMK general secretary to continue the political legacy of Jayalalithaa and MGR.