Ousted former AIADMK chief VK Sasikala’s sudden announcement on Wednesday night that she will “step aside from politics and public life” clearly means Advantage AIADMK and a setback to her nephew and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader TTV Dhinakaran.
In a press release last evening Sasikala, the closest aide of the late former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, did not refer to herself as AIADMK General Secretary, contrary to TTV Dhinkaran’s claims. He has, in fact, said they (Sasikala and he) intend to contest her sacking from the AIADMK top post legally.
Sasikala has now clearly taken the moral high ground, not just saying she will “stay away from politics” but also “praying” for the AIADMK to retain power in the April 6 election.
For someone who is often projected as power-hungry, she has, through her statement conveyed that she prioritises Amma‘s dream of continued AIADMK rule above everything else, including her political ambitions and her family, in this case, nephew Dhinakaran.
She very clearly spelt out the reasons for her decision too, saying that the AIADMK cadre needs to stay united before the election so the party can continue to rule even after Jayalalithaa.
This is something she said even on the day she came out of Bengaluru Jail – after a four-year sentence in a corruption case – and undertook the road journey from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
“All true followers of Jayalalithaa need to act with wisdom to ensure the DMK, that ‘amma‘ identified as our common enemy, is kept out of power,” Sasikala said in her statement.
“I have never hankered after title, posts or power. I will stay away from politics and pray to ‘akka‘ (sister) and to God, for AIADMK rule to continue,” she added.
The surprise move comes even as the central leadership of the BJP – which is allied with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu – has been mounting pressure on the AIADMK to work with Sasikala and the AMMK.
Sources say Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, or EPS, has been steadfast in his insistence that the party’s doors are closed for Sasikala. The BJP, on Wednesday morning, was said to have left the decision to EPS and his deputy, O Panneerselvam, or OPS.
Ironically OPS, who was the man who first rebelled in 2017 against Sasikala as AIADMK chief, and next-in-line to Jayalalithaa’s chief ministerial post, was reportedly more open to the idea.
Reacting to Sasikala’s announcement, AMMK leader TTV Dhinakaran said his aunt hoped her staying away would keep the party united and focused on retaining power. Earlier he had said he was open to joining with the AIADMK but suggested he would seek a leadership role.
Ever since Sasikala came out of jail, she has been careful to avoid making negative comments about EPS or any AIADMK leader who criticised her. So she cannot be accused of conspiring or working to bring down “Amma‘s government”. She has made statements that suggest she puts the party before herself or her ambitions.
Just like the way Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were viewed – the former idolised and the latter villainised – in the present scenario, Sasikala is showing herself to be dignified, not hankering after power and willing to put party before personal ambition.
Her nephew, though, who organised a massive roadshow to announce his aunt’s re-entry to Tamil Nadu politics, is labelled pushy and ambitious. He was widely seen as being kept away from the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa, but is now projecting himself, and Sasikala, as the inheritor of her legacy.
With EPS firm in his decision to keep Sasikala from the AIADMK, there is speculation the BJP had a hand in Sasikala’s announcement, thus putting the focus on defeating the DMK by not splitting the AIADMK vote and keeping TTV Dhinakaran in check.
Many leaders including actor-politician couple Sarath Kumar and Radhika, have met Sasikala over the past few days, but no new alliances have been announced. For Sasikala, it may be best to wait and watch – at a time when ground reports suggest the AIADMK is fighting with its back to the wall.
Congress leader KS Azhagiri says Sasikala’s move has stumped the BJP, which he says was hoping to control the AIADMK and Tamil Nadu through her.
That said, nothing stops Sasikala from re-entering politics after the election. Her move to step aside, at least for now, means in case the AIADMK loses, she need not share the blame. For EPS, it would be difficult to keep his hold on the party when he is not in the chief minister’s chair. That may pave the way for Sasikala’s return.
If the AIADMK- NDA wins, Sasikala’s self-imposed political isolation may extend longer and she would need to wait for an opportune time to strike.
Given Sasikala’s long political experience, even if not in the leader’s seat but with a ringside view, would suggest the 66-year-old has made a calculated gambit.