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Jayalalithaa protégé, Sasikala, becomes Tamil Nadu Chief Minister

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Chennai: It was inevitable, but still came as a shock for most people in the state and elsewhere. Exactly two months after the death of AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu chief minister, J Jayalaithaa, her friend and trusted aid V.K. Sasikala is going to take over the state as the chief minister.

Last month, she was elected to the top post of the party as General Secretary of the party. She was elected the legislature party chief of the state earlier today. With chief minister O Panerselvam tendering his resignation, she is ready to take over one of the most prosperous state in the country.

V K Sasikala after attending the party's MLA's meeting

AIADMK legislators, many of whom were rooting for her as the chief minister of the state backed her and there was no controversy, whatsoever in this regard.

Later the newly installed party chief said that outgoing Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam himself wanted her to head the government. Addressing the legislators, the 59-year old Sasikala, a long-time confidante of Jayalalithaa, said Panneerselvam had also insisted earlier that she become the party head too. Panneerselvam, who had earlier been acting Chief Minister twice, sent his resignation to Sasikala, party sources said.

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Sasikala’s ascent was condemned by the main opposition party. DMK said it was “shocked” that the AIADMK had chosen an administratively inexperienced Sasikala as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, one of India’s biggest states. “People didn’t vote for Sasikala,” DMK Working President M.K. Stalin said. The DMK said Sunday was a “black day” for Tamil Nadu.

In the meantime the newly elected leader said “Since everyone stressed that one person should hold both the posts – Chief Minister and General Secretary of the party – I agreed.” According to AIADMK sources, Panneerselvam proposed her name and the other MLAs seconded it to show unanimity in the party. Sasikala belongs to the Thevar community, which has a dominant say in the AIADMK. Bharatiya Janata Party’s Tamil Nadu President Tamilisai Soundararajan agreed that electing Sasikala was the AIADMK MLAs’ right but wondered what was the urgency.

She comes from a very humble background. Born in 1957 in Thiruthuraipoondi, about 330 km from Chennai, Sasikala was married to M. Natarajan, a Tamil Nadu government official. In the 1980s, Natarajan urged South Arcot District Collector V.S. Chandralekha to introduce Sasikala to Jayalalithaa so that the then AIADMK Propaganda Secretary would get due publicity. With Jayalalithaa finding Sasikala’s work satisfactory, they became friends. After a while, Sasikala moved into the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa in Chennai. Sasikala used to accompany Jayalalithaa on her trips, often seated behind the charismatic actor-turned-AIADMK leader. Jayalalithaa publicly called Sasikala a sister not related by blood.

Despite her close relationship with the all-powerful Jayalalithaa, Sasikala maintained a low profile publicly although she was actively involved in managing the party affairs. Their relationship turned sour in 2011 and Jayalalithaa told Sasikala and her family members to leave her residence. But they patched up later, ensuring Sasikala’s return to the AIADMK. Supporters of Sasikala point out that she assisted Jayalalithaa in the party affairs – and was with her during her tough times. Earlier on Sunday, Panneerselvam and other ministers met Sasikala at the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa where Sasikala continues to live.

Days earlier, Sasikala named to various party posts some ex-ministers and others who had been earlier shunted out by Jayalalithaa. She also reached out to those seen as a threat to her and placated them before becoming the party General Secretary. Milk and Dairy Development Minister K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji said: “Now a brave Tamil woman will be the Chief Minister. Can’t a Tamil woman become Chief Minister?” Tamil Nadu’s first woman Chief Minister was Janaki Ramachandran, the widow of the late M.G. Ramachandran, the AIADMK founder. She was in office only for a brief period. She was succeeded by Jayalalithaa, who in May last year led the AIADMK to another victory in assembly elections.

The biggest test for her may come from courts. Like Jayalalithaa, Sasikala too has faced corruption charges. The Supreme Court is yet to deliver a ruling in the disproportionate assets case. If it goes against her, it will be a blow to her and the AIADMK. There is no information available anywhere about the educational qualification of Sasikala. However, she has done graduation from somewhere after which she got married to Natarajan.

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