Sasikala’s tear-jerker: can we please get a new twist?

Chennai: In a predictable replay of the unique politico-family drama in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s close associate Sasikala, who was expelled from the Jaya household and the ruling AIADMK four months ago, is all set to stage a comeback.

In a statement here today, Jayalalithaa said that the disciplinary action against Sasikala in the party has been withdrawn following a satisfactory explanation by the latter.

However, her relatives, a dozen of them, will continue to be out of the party. Jayalalithaa has warned her party workers not to have any truck with them.

The Chief Minister has revoked Sasikala's suspension and disciplinary acion against her. PTI

Four of them, including Sasikala’s husband and her brother, are in jail on several criminal cases, while one is on the run.

Jayalalithaa’s statement today didn’t surprise many in the state as it followed a patch-up statement by Sasikala early this week. In a dramatic statement, Sasikala pleaded innocence of the wrongdoings by her relatives against Jayalalithaa and said that she had snapped all ties with them. She had added that she didn’t have any ambition in politics or public life, but only wanted to serve Jayalalithaa.

Sasikala’s statement was first aired on Jaya TV, the de facto party channel, and led to the speculation of a reconciliation between the two and that it was only a matter of time before she returned home. Under these circumstances, Jayalalithaa’s announcement today appeared too predictable and lame.

However, many party workers are very worried because they had publicly celebrated Sasikala’s unceremonious exit in December 2011. They lit fireworks, shouted slogans against her and openly spoke how Sasikala and her clan had spoiled Jayalalithaa’s image.

They were emboldened by Jayalalithaa’s stern and repeat warnings that her decision to expel the “betrayers of the party” was final and there would be strict action against the party workers who maintained any contact with them.

In a public meeting of the party and at the AIADMK General Council, she reiterated that those who had been expelled from the party still tried to influence and intimidate the workers. The betrayers would never be pardoned.

Jayalalithaa’s affirmation at the time sounded final and the party workers rejoiced. But the story is now almost back to where it all began. Since Jayalalithaa today revoked the disciplinary action against Sasikala, many are worried that she may come back to the party as well.

The biggest speculation in Chennai, in the wake of the well-timed sequence of statements, is if Sasikala has already returned to Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence. Apparently she had been packed off at least a week ahead of her official expulsion in December last year. Therefore, many believe, she could have gotten back to original residence ahead of the official re-entry.

Sasikala, a former video store owner, has been Jayalalithaa’s close companion and associate for 24 years, since the early part of the latter’s political career. When Jayalalithaa came to power for the first time in 1991, Sasikala and her close family members also assumed power and allegedly abused their proximity to Jayalalithaa.

Their writ ran in the state administration and public life. The most flagrant of them all was the mega marriage of Sasikala’s nephew, whom Jayalalithaa had adopted. The media frequently reported their excesses and abuse of power were often the target of violence and police action.

It wasn’t surprising when the AIADMK was routed in the next assembly election (1996) and the target of all blame for the dismal show was Sasikala and her family. Annoyed by the loss, Jayalalithaa asked Sasikala to leave her Poes Garden residence. However, a few months later they patched up and Sasikala returned home. Since then, they have been together.

The recent expulsion of Sasikala and her relatives followed reports of excessive abuse of authority by them as soon as Jayalalithaa returned to power in May. Apparently, Sasikala and her close associates controlled the distribution of party tickets for the assembly elections to ensure that their loyalists became MLAs.

Once Jayalalithaa assumed office, they allegedly started influencing allocation of ministries, posting and transfer of senior officials thereby virtually controlling the state administration. Apparently, they also meddled with policies and mega infrastructure projects.

The buzz in Chennai then was that Jayalalithaa was unaware of the clan’s operation and nobody had the proximity or courage to advise her. It was finally journalist-benefactor Cho Ramaswamy and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who reasoned with her. There were also reports of the Sasikala clan conspiring to usurp power.

Sasikala has been making the right overtures for her return ever since she started testifying before a Bangalore trial court in a disproportionate wealth case, in which Jayalalithaa and her are the accused. Sasikala steadfastly defended Jayalalithaa, perhaps in a bid to demonstrate her loyalty.

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