CHENNAI: The late Jayalalithaa's close friend V.K. Sasikala, who was so far in the shadows of her ‘elder sister’ and running the party from behind the curtains, has stepped out in the open with her appointment as the AIADMK general secretary.
After getting the unanimous support of the general council members, she now faces the crucial test of gaining people’s acceptance. She does not have the film links of her predecessors, though films in a way had contributed to her proximity to Jayalalithaa as their friendship had begun through the video cassettes she was hiring out to the rising star of the AIADMK in the eighties.
Sasikala hails from a lower middle class family in Mannargudi. According to the locals, 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 after marriage to M. Natarajan, a government PRO, chose the business of video renting, besides buying a video camera to shoot marriages in her locality.
When Jayalalithaa visited Cuddalore to attend a party conference in 1984, Sasikala offered to videograph the campaign. 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 times as well as bad times.
Jayalalithaa described Sasikala as ‘my udanpirava sagothari’ who filled the void caused by the loss of her mother Sandhya. In Puducherry, Jayalalithaa’s car was hit by a lorry causing injuries to both Jayalalithaa and Sasikala. The former AIADMK supremo alleged that it was a conspiracy to eliminate her.
The first term of Jayalalithaa witnessed numerous corruption charges and the AIADMK was routed in the 1996 Assembly polls. Along with Jayalalithaa, Sasikala faced the colour TV and TANSI land deal case. She is also a co-accused in a disproportionate wealth case which is pending in Supreme Court.
On 17 December, 2011, Jayalalithaa asked her close aide to leave her house. Some of her family members were even put behind bars on allegations of corruption. But, Jayalaithaa reinducted Sasikala in March 2012 after she publicly distanced herself from her family members. She returned to Poes Garden and was staying with Jayalalithaa till her death. Sasikala performed the last rites for her friend, along with Deepak, son of Jayalalithaa's brother.
Even when Jayalalithaa was alive, Sasikala had a major role in party affairs, influencing the choice of state and district level functionaries. She also had a key role in preparing the list of AIADMK candidates for Assembly and Parliament elections, besides the appointment and dismissal of ministers.
Although she had accompanied Jayalalithaa in almost all of her tours and public functions, Sasikala did not address a single meeting. So far the AIADMK was successfully carrying all its populist schemes under the brand name of its charismatic leader Jayalalithaa. Now, Sasikala has the arduous task of keeping the government’s popularity intact besides establishing herself as a leader acceptable to the masses. Whether she contests the RK Nagar seat or not, she will face the first test of her popularity in the by-elections to the seat. Besides, local body elections, if announced, will be another crucial test for her leadership....