Sunday, 26 June, 2022
HomeOpinionSasikala’s AIADMK entry looks tough but corruption never stopped Jayalalithaa from comebacks

Sasikala’s AIADMK entry looks tough but corruption never stopped Jayalalithaa from comebacks

Tamil Nadu has had a long history of corruption going back to 1976 when the DMK government of Karunanidhi was dismissed on graft charges.

Text Size:

It is the sign of the times when a person, who has just been released from prison after serving a four-year-term on charges of corruption, is being seen as a possible game changer in Tamil Nadu politics. And what does one say when a four-year jail term for corruption is seen as a badge of honour and described as thyagam (sacrifice)?

That is what is happening in Tamil Nadu after V.K. Sasikala — a live-in confidante of the late Chief Minister and AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa for more than three-and-half decades, who was released on 27 January, but had to spend a few days in Bengaluru as she had contracted Covid — returned to Chennai to a heroine’s welcome from her supporters.

But Sasikala has come back to a Tamil Nadu where the political scenario has changed drastically in the past four years. The man that she made the Chief Minister, Edappadi. K. Palaniswami, has turned against her. Even when she was in jail, he had engineered her removal as the AIADMK general secretary, a post the party had given her after Jayalalithaa’s death. (She has challenged the party’s decision in court). Her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran has been forced to float a separate party called the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam. Even her claim to AIADMK membership was taken away while she was in jail.

The immediate objective before Sasikala and Dhinakaran is to take the reins of the AIADMK, which they claim had been taken away by acts of betrayal from the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam combine, with reported backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national leadership. And this they would like to achieve before the assembly election that is due in May. According to Dhinakaran, only an AIADMK under Sasikala’s leadership can prevent the DMK and its allies from winning the election — a feeling that is also shared by some in the lower rungs of the AIADMK. They do not see the entry of actor Kamal Hassan and his Makkal Neethi Maiyam (MNM) of any consequence.

Also read: Expelled AIADMK leader Sasikala says she will be involved in active politics

Sasikala, and the ‘collateral’ damage

Corruption or being convicted for corruption does not seem to be a stain or an impediment in Tamil Nadu anymore. As far as Sasikala’s supporters are concerned, she was the victim of a conspiracy against Jayalalithaa. Sasikala, according to them, was a collateral damage, and she sacrificed her freedom for having been close to Jayalalithaa.

Thousands of her supporters have hailed Sasikala as ‘thyagathalavi’ (leader who has sacrificed). They defied a jittery AIADMK government’s attempts to clamp down on them and went on to greet her motorcade as it made its way from Bengaluru to Chennai. Many of them even raised slogans urging her to take over the leadership of AIADMK.

But Palaniswami and his supporters are in no mood to cede space to Sasikala. The Chief Minister has even out rightly rejected RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy’s suggestions for making peace with Sasikala and ensure a record third victory for the AIADMK. This is partly out of fear, that given a chance, she will take it out on him and his deputy for ‘their grand betrayal’. That is why K. Palaniswami had gone the extra mile to put a damper on Sasikala’s return to Chennai.

Also read: AIADMK alleges Sasikala camp is ‘conspiring’ to unleash violence, lodges police complaint

Palaniswami, playing it safe

When it was first announced that she will be released on 27 January, the Palaniswami government tried to deflect the attention by having the inauguration of a memorial at Marina beach for Jayalalithaa on the same date. On 28 January, a day after Sasikala was released, the Tamil Nadu government also converted Veda Nilayam, Jayalalithaa’s residence in Poes Garden, as a memorial for the former AIADMK chief. The Poes Garden residence also happened to be Sasikala’s home till she was sent to jail in Bengaluru.

The two memorials were shut for the public immediately after their inauguration, preventing Sasikala from visiting them. The Jayalalithaa Samadhi on Marina beach is particularly significant as it is here that Sasikala had taken three vows before being taken to the Bengaluru jail.

The state government also issued orders restricting the number of people gathered to welcome Sasikala and the size of her motorcade (only four cars were to be allowed). The restrictions were laughable as the government had not bothered about Covid when thousands of AIADMK cadres had come in buses to Chennai for the inauguration of the memorial at the Jayalalithaa Samadhi.

Predictably, all these restrictions were defied by Sasikala supporters who now believe that she will once again take reins of the AIADMK as she had done after Jayalalithaa’s death.

Meanwhile, the opposition DMK is gleefully watching the drama unfold. DMK president M.K. Stalin has been, without direct reference to Sasikala, repeatedly predicting a major split in the AIADMK in the coming weeks. In fact, as late as 6 February, he had asked the state to be ready for momentous political development in “two or three days.” His emphasis on the AIADMK split, seen by many in his own party as excessive, led one of them to comment that Stalin seems to be pinning his hopes on Sasikala splitting the AIADMK, rather than his own ability to lead the DMK to a victory in the coming assembly elections.

Which again brings back the question: does corruption matter at all in Tamil Nadu?

Also read: Sasikala returns to Tamil Nadu ahead of polls with AIADMK flag & in Jayalalithaa’s colour

Tamil Nadu and corruption

The state has had a long history of corruption going back to 1976 when then DMK government headed by M. Karunanidhi was dismissed. Subsequently, based on the indictment by a commission headed by Justice R.S. Sarkararia, CBI had filed cases against Karunanidhi and a host of his ministers. But these cases were withdrawn by Indira Gandhi when she came back to power in 1980, in alliance with DMK in Tamil Nadu.

But that indictment was enough to taint Karunanidhi and DMK for a few years as the spectre of corruption, combined with the charisma of M.G. Ramachandran kept the DMK out of power for more than a decade. However, all this was apparently forgotten once MGR died and Karunanidhi-led DMK came back to power in 1989.

Then there was Jayalalithaa who was punished by the electorate in 1996 for rampant corruption during her first term (1991-96). The AIADMK was routed and even Jayalalithaa lost the election. But the charges of corruption were soon forgotten or forgiven as she bounced back in 2001. Despite being unseated twice due to conviction by lower courts in a couple of cases of corruption, she roared back after being acquitted by the Madras High Court in one case and by the Supreme Court in the other. She had successfully managed to project the corruption cases against her as a witch-hunt by Karunanidhi.

Karunanidhi again had to face corruption woes when his family members, including daughter Kanimozhi, were embroiled in the 2G scam case. That became a factor to his party’s defeat in 2011. Though Kanimozhi and others have been acquitted by the CBI special court, the shadow of corruption still hangs over the party.

Barring 1996 and 2011 to some extent, corruption has ceased to be an issue in Tamil Nadu and the results of the assembly elections are now invariably determined by the alliances that the two Dravidian majors cobble together. Both DMK and AIADMK have consistently had a vote share of a little over 30 per cent each in every state assembly election since 2001.

Kalyan Arun is a political analyst and journalism educator in Chennai. He tweets at @kalyanarun. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. How many elections has Sasikala contested and won? She is riding piggy back on Jayalalitha’s name. She presumes that three years after her death Jayalalitha’s name can still play like magic in TN politics. Anyway, both were convicts in corruption cases. Had Jayalalitha lived, she too would have served her time in Jail.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular