It’s not with universal approbation that V.K. Sasikala, a close aide of former CM J. Jayalalithaa for decades (except brief periods when she was expelled), will take over as Tamil Nadu’s chief minister. She became the AIADMK’s leader (general secretary) two months ago, after Jaya’s death. She has no practical administrative experience, but is known to have picked up considerable expertise as a backstage manipulator. She is a co-accused with Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case, where the final verdict is yet to be delivered on appeals after the Karnataka high court sensationally acquitted all of them last year. Sasikala never contested an election nor made a political speech before she took charge of the AIADMK in extraordinary circumstances. She has won over a majority of AIADMK’s 134 legislators and staked a claim to forming her government, replacing perennial stand-in Panneerselvam, who did his job competently at every turn.
What Sasikala is doing can’t be legally challenged. Tamil Nadu’s first CM, C. Rajagopalachari, didn’t stand in the first-ever general election in 1952 and was nominated to the Madras Legislative Council to become CM as the Congress cobbled together a majority by wooing MLAs. Janaki Ramachandran was another example. History has nothing against her. The question is moral and ethical. It is debatable if she should have waited for possible final acquittal in the DA case (Fera cases are pending against her too) and not risk losing her post as Jaya was forced to after conviction. The popular opinion may be against her move, going by the kneejerk fury of the social media. But she has the option of standing in an assembly byelection within six months. Garnering votes will be her first big test as a full-fledged politician.
Sasikala’s spectacular rise can’t be held against her when it comes to judging competence at a job many men with little formal education have held. The DA case hangs over her like a Damocles’ sword, but the Supreme Court, that hasn’t ruled on it for two decades, says it needs just one week now as the case is “almost over”. If that’s true, Sasikala may as well wait for the verdict before taking her mentor Jayalalithaa’s chair at Fort St. George. That will be the minimum step in morality even a manipulator can take. She will then rule a state just recovering from many issues, including a popular movement for the bull-taming sport of jallikattu. It also faces a yawning fiscal deficit. The change of guard will come at a contentious time and perhaps at the cost of alienating the BJP-ruled Centre. What Tamil Nadu needs most now is stability, and Sasikala at least promises to keep the AIADMK flock together, in which she has shown some expertise.