Chennai: VK Sasikala or Sasikala Natrajan is Chief Minister (in-waiting) of Tamil Nadu. While there is some suspense over her eventual taking over of the state as the third woman chief minister, she is eventually expected to take over and complete her term in office.
Coming from a very humble background, Sasikala Natrajan devoted at least three decades of her life to her mentor and friend, Jayalalithaa. She started staying with the late chief minister when she had just begun her political career and was still the top billed Tamil actress.
Sasikala always shadowed Jayalalithaa wherever she went. Taking care of her personal needs and managing her household was the responsibility of Sasikala that she fulfilled with utmost care. Later, she started taking care of the party affairs, but always from behind the scene and never trying to come into the limelight. The chief minister in waiting reportedly completed her graduation before her marriage to her controversial husband.
The two had their differences too, but their friendship prevailed over everything else. Jayalalithaa called her sister and on one occasion described Sasikala like a mother. This is the reason hat on both the occasions, they settled their differences and Sasikala resumed living in Jayalalithaas Poes Garden residence after assuring the AIADMK chief that she would keep away from her relatives.
BBC in an article titled “Sasikala: The ‘new mother’ of Tamil Nadu politics” says, “For close to three decades, Sasikala, known as “Chinnamma” (younger mother) to her supporters, has been an almost permanent fixture in Jayalalitha’s life, often seen with the former chief minister on public platforms…Sasikala started visiting Poes Garden, Jayalalitha’s residence, to provide video cassettes to her. This customer-consumer relationship soon blossomed into a strong friendship…Sasikala’s influence over Jayalalitha also became the source of intense media speculation and tabloid gossip…While her supporters claim that having donned the role of Jayalalitha’s “political adviser” for many years, Sasikala is experienced in handling sensitive party matters. But her critics say that she is yet to prove herself, and the corruption case she faces may become an obstacle in her path”.
The News Minute while writing about Sasikala says, “While Sasikala and her husband moved into “Veda Nilayam” Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence soon after MGR’s death, Natarajan was kicked out in 1990 for trying to “dominate”Jayalalithaa…From then on, Sasikala remained the lone figure in Jayalalithaa’s life, sharing her moments of triumphs and defeat. From running the Poes Garden household and taking care of Jayalalithaa’s every need to entertaining political visitors and controlling Jaya TV, the party mouthpiece, Sasikala, in Chandralekha’s words, made herself “indispensable” to Jayalalithaa…When Jayalalithaa was catapulted to power in 1991, Sasikala’s influence in the party and in government grew. In the eyes of the public, every step and misstep Jayalalithaa took in her early years as state administrator, Sasikala was not far behind.”
A story in the FirstPost says, “What many don’t realise is that there was no other alternative for both the AIADMK and Sasikala herself because Jaya hadn’t allowed for a second line of leadership and hadn’t indicated who her successor would be in case anything happened to her. It was a vacuum that needed to be filled fast. Had Sasikala not taken over the party, even while she was mourning, the AIADMK would have fractured on the lines of caste loyalties and power. So, she was completely justified in stepping in, and doing rather well in scripting and executing the takeover. However, the race to Fort St George, the state secretariat from where she will rule the state, happened too soon. She could’ve waited a little longer, at least till she established herself as the new leader, made some key public appearances, and achieved some traction with the party ranks and its core support base.
The story goes on to say, “What awaits her now is huge uncertainty, particularly getting people’s approval, running the government, and putting up at least a semblance of what Jaya did. Tamil Nadu is among the most important states in the country — it’s the second largest economy in India, which is also a top FDI destination, a human development achiever ranked second only to Kerala, an aspiring welfare state that has shown the rest of India how social protection can coexist with a liberalised economy and how an innovative bureaucracy can make a difference to governance. A major part of these are political achievements, thanks to Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi who had been alternating in power since the 1990s. And that’s the template into which Sasikala has to fit. Unfortunately, the comparisons she will face will be unfair because it’s impossible to match even a fraction of their statesmanship and political craft in a few days or even in a few years”.
A Hindustan Times story about Sasikala says, “Sasikala’s was by no means an easy task. She had to ensure that she remained number two and resist temptations to cross some invisible lines laid down by Jayalalithaa. At least once, she notoriously crossed that line, and found herself exiled from Poes Garden. How she returned, only she and her late friend know, but return she did and stayed by Jayalalithaa’s side till the end…Sasikala stood beside and behind her – indispensable to the last. Triumph or disaster, Sasikala was always at hand, providing both personal and political succour to her leader.
The story goes on to add, “In the course of playing No.2, she sometimes seemed to be the only channel to Jayalalithaa and this gave her a political aura and clout far beyond her real strength. Amma always had the last word – and her last word was often utterly unexpected. Yet, something of that raw power rubbed off on Sasikala and she came to represent real political strength”.