Even though V K Sasikala’s relatives may be calling the shots within the AIADMK and the Tamil Nadu government now, the ‘Mannargudi clan’ doesn’t have a future in state politics, reports R Rajagopalan.
Vivekanandan Krishnaveni Sasikala may have played a masterstroke, getting her nominee in the chief minister’s chair through the backdoor before stepping into prison in Karnataka, yet in the hearts of many a Tamil populace she’s left a bruise that could have a bearing on the future of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
On the streets of Tamil Nadu, the very mention of Sasikala often draws ire these days.
The manner in which Jayalalithaa’s appointee as chief minister twice in the past, O Panneerselvam, was pulled down from power by the departed Amma’s aide and the way she pushed the AIADMK into turmoil has done her reputation no good.
The sympathy wave that came her way in the aftermath of Jayalithaa’s demise withered away thanks to the behind-the-scenes politics she indulged in thereafter.
The Mannargudi clan has returned, the people fumed and the media reported.
Sasikala was born in 1957 in Mannargudi, a small temple town in Tiruvarur district in the Cauvery delta. She had four brothers — Sundaravadanam, Jayaraman, Vinodhagan and Dhivaharan — and a sister Vanithamani. Though belonging to the influential Kallar (Thevar) community, her family was not wealthy. It was not until her husband, Natarajan — a public relations officer in the state government in the 1970s — introduced her to Jayalalithaa through IAS officer V S Chandralekha that her fortunes changed.
As Jayalalithaa evolved in stature both within the party and the state, Sasikala prospered as the AIADMK supremo’s closest aide. And so did her family members from Mannargudi.
Over the years, taking advantage of Sasikala’s proximity with Jayalalithaa, the close-knit group of relatives and associates — numbering around 20-25 — reportedly formed roots in the government machinery and took up important postings. The ‘Mannargudi Mafia’, as they soon came to be called, was soon calling the shots. At some point, Jayalalithaa realised the danger that this group posed for her administration. She banished Sasikala and her relatives from her Poes Garden residence and cracked down on the associates. Though eventually Sasikala returned to Poes Garden after apologising to Jayalalithaa, her family was kept out.
Now, with Jayalalithaa’s passing away, the Mannargudi clan is once again making a comeback. From ensuring that they were the only ones surrounding Jayalalithaa’s mortal remains to Sasikala’s move to revoke the expulsion (by Jayalalithaa) of TTV Dhinakaran and Venkatesh, these acts are being seen as signs of their return.
Many, in fact, believe that the extended family may have a free run in the government’s functioning, especially with four more years to go before the next assembly elections.
But having said that, the extended family may run out of gas considering the widespread public resentment against them.
OPS has ensured that the spotlight was on her and her relatives. Add to that the manner in which OPS performed during his short stint as chief minister. Be it the round-the-clock handling of the cyclone Vardhan aftermath or the ordinance allowing Jallikattu in the state, the tide of popular sentiment was flowing in favour of the former stand-in chief minister.
From creating a doubt in the people’s minds about the circumstances surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death, the way Sasikala ensured that nobody was allowed to meet the AIADMK supremo, to proposing to turn Amma’s Poes Garden bungalow into a memorial, OPS has played his cards well.
There are many in Tamil Nadu who believe that Jayalalithaa could have been kept alive for a longer duration had proper medical treatment been extended to her. And OPS gave the people’s doubts legitimacy by calling for a judicial probe into the circumstances around her death.
People have also been questioning the manner in which Sasikala has taken over Poes Garden and the rest of Jayalalithaa’s assets.
Another factor that could ensure that the family doesn’t really have a long run in Tamil Nadu politics is that it doesn’t find favour with the dominant castes in the state.
During her lifetime, Jayalithaa struck a fine balance and kept the dominant castes — Thevars, Nadars, Vanniyars and Gounders — under check. Sasikala though is widely seen as favouring the Thevars. Even though she has tried to shed this image by anointing a Gounder (Edappadi Palaniswami) as chief minister, it will be difficult for her to carry along the other castes without them trying to challenge her authority.
R Rajagopalan is a veteran New Delhi-based journalist who has been reporting on Tamil Nadu affairs for long.
Photograph: PTI Photo