‘Amma irreplaceable’; will Tamil Nadu people let Sasikala fill the void?

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New Delhi | Published: December 12, 2016 10:41:55 AM

It has become evident that ‘Chinna-Amma’ Sasikala will lead the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after key party leader asserted that there is no difference of opinion within the party ranks over the leadership qualities of late chief minister Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala Natrajan.

It has become evident that ‘Chinna-Amma’ Sasikala will lead the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after key party leader asserted that there is no difference of opinion within the party ranks over the leadership qualities of late chief minister Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala Natrajan. (AP Photo)It has become evident that ‘Chinna-Amma’ Sasikala will lead the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after key party leader asserted that there is no difference of opinion within the party ranks over the leadership qualities of late chief minister Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala Natrajan. (AP Photo)

It has become evident that ‘Chinna-Amma’ Sasikala will lead the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after key party leader asserted that there is no difference of opinion within the party ranks over the leadership qualities of late chief minister Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala Natrajan. The party leadership felt that she is a well-known person who is fit to lead the party in its future endeavours. But cracks are visible and it will be up to Sasikala to tackle and mend those. According to an Indian Express report, since Jayalalithaa’s demise, huge resentment has been building up against Sasikala among the footsoldiers who form the massive cadre-based backbone of the AIADMK. The main theme is that party cadres were not allowed to meet their leader in her last days in hospital, with the perception that Sasikala was responsible. A group of women from Jayalalithaa’s R K Nagar constituency in Chennai walk in with a banner proclaiming their loyalty to her. “No way, Sasikala is not my Amma. She will never be my leader,” says Vasantha, getting emotional as she talks about how they were not allowed to meet Jayalalithaa in those final days. The message is loud and clear- “Amma is irreplaceable”.

However, over the last few days, a number of AIADMK heavyweights have come out in Sasikala’s support. On Friday, when Sasikala went to Jayalalithaa’s grave for a few minutes, ministers and party seniors lined up to meet her, and many touched her feet immediately after paying their respects to their late leader. On Saturday, many leaders issued statements of support, following the example set by O Panneerselvam.

The biggest of them was K A Sengottayan from the powerful Gounder community whose leaders within the AIADMK were initially resentful of Sasikala. Sengottayan was a minister in Jayalalithaa’s cabinet, is said to have the support of several MLAs. The other influential leader who has accepted Sasikala’s leadership is E Madhusudanan, who Jayalalithaa elevated to the “dummy post” of chairman of the AIADMK presidium in 2007. He draws his power from the World MGR Fans’ Association that he has headed for years, and was a minister in MGR’s cabinet as well as during Jayalalithaa’s first term. Others like the Mayor of Chennai, Saidai Doraisawamy; Rajya Sabha MPs, Thambidurai and R Vaithialingam; and, even the PWD & Highways Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy, who was seen as a challenger to Sasikala’s authority, have extended support. “With more than four years to go for our government, it is useless to talk about rebellion,” says an AIADMK MLA. On the main Cathedral Road outside Poes Garden, a big hoarding has come up with images of Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, hailing the latter as “Beloved Sister”. Advertisements inserted in newspapers by MLAs and middle-rung leaders in remembrance of Amma also have Sasikala’s photographs displayed prominently.

But for the morning mourners at Jayalalithaa’s burial site, this is betrayal. “Sasikala must not be given any post in the party. Our party office-bearers must hear our cries of anguish. We form the backbone of the party, and we will not be able to tolerate Sasikala becoming general secretary or chief minister,” says Sulochana. According to Rajendran, from Erode, if leaders consult workers like himself, they will be able to understand the sentiment. “But I don’t think they will ask us, we’ll have to do as we are told by our seniors,” he says. Declaring that she will not hold back, Selvi says, “We elect our MLAs, and our office-bearers depend on us to rally voters. This is how it is in a democracy, and we are saying ‘no’ to Sasikala. If they don’t listen to us, they will have to pay for it.”

One such profound voice said “It is an open secret that the party has no leader of the kind it needs. It is not just Jayalalithaa who suffered a cardiac arrest, the party has also had a heart attack. Unlike her, it can survive this blow but it will depend on who the party chooses to continue the legacy of MGR and Jayalalithaa,”. At the Marina, meanwhile, the only thing going for Sasikala is the extreme loyalty of workers — to the party. One party worker said, “We will never leave AIADMK. We cannot betray Amma. We even believe that she may come back and save us.”

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