CHENNAI: Sasikala Natarajan, the close aide of former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, was in public focus throughout the day on Tuesday when every channel in the state made live coverage of leaders paying homage to the departed AIADMK supremo at Rajaji Hall and later during the funeral at the Marina.
Most of the leaders spoke to her or consoled her before the television cameras as she nodded her or replied to their conversation. Finally, she performed the last rites to Jayalalithaa along with the deceased leader’s relatives as cadres and party voters were glued to television sets throughout the day.
She was rarely seen in public functions after Jayalalithaa allowed her return to Poes Garden after a banishment for about a year. But, it is a open secret that she was running the party and government ever since, Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospitals.
Even before, she played a crucial role in party affairs and most of the MLAs given party tickets in the 2016 Assembly elections were hand-picked by her.
She has played a major role in the transition of power in the state by elevating O. Panneerselvam as the Chief Minister. But, the general secretary role left by Jayalalithaa remains vacant and the party needs to fill the void in the near future.
It appears that the time has come for her to emerge from the shadows and move to the limelight. But, with the wealth case pending in the Supreme Court hanging like a Damocles sword over her, will she step into the shoes of Jayalalithaa or choose to remain behind the scenes will be the crucial question before the next general council meet.
She does not have the film links of her predecessor in the party, but films have contributed to her proximity with AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa who was a rising leader in the eighties. Sasikala hails from a lower middle class family in Mannargudi.
According to people who lived in the neighbourhood, Sasikala was living with her brother Vinodhagan in a small house with three rooms at Municipal Colony. The economic condition of the struggling family got better after Vinodhagan established himself as a doctor. Sasikala, who moved to Chennai with Natarajan, a government PRO, chose the business of video renting, besides buying a video camera and started shooting marriages in her locality.
When Jayalalithaa, the then propaganda secretary of AIADMK, campaigned in the 1984 Assembly and Parliament elections, Sasikala offered to videograph issues for electioneering. Slowly, she entered the good books of the AIADMK leader and gained entry into Poes Garden. Over a period of time, Sasikala became the most trusted companion of Jayalalithaa and stood by her in good as well as bad times