Why did Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa break with her erstwhile comrade-in-arms Sasikala Natarajan and her family?
Several conspiracy theories are doing the rounds. According to DNA newspaper, Sasikala had been interfering too much with the administration and there was talk of a "palace coup."
Quoting an unnamed intelligence source, the newspaper said: "There were reports that Sasikala and her relations were planning to oust Jayalalithaa and appoint her husband Natarajan as the chief minister."
Few political insiders are inclined to believe this since Natarajan and Sasikala are not people with mass appeal who can carry politicians with them. Without Jayalalithaa, they are political ciphers.
More believeable is the story that Jayalalithaa was upset about the large-scale transfers and postings of IAS and IPS officers done at the behest of Sasikala and her relatives.
It is not surprising that Jayalalithaa—who does not believe in outsourcing her peremptory style—might have been miffed with this.
A third story doing the rounds is that Jayalalithaa has been unable to get her administration to work in a streamlined fashion after her thumping victory in last May's assembly elections. Among others, she is rumoured to have been advised by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi—with whom she has an excellent equation—to get rid of Sasikala and model her state’s rejuvenation on the lines of Gujarat—where the CM takes all the key decisions and reduces bureaucratic delays to a minimum.
Either way, Jayalalithaa’s decision to cut her links with Sasikala and her family members means that she has decided to take the plunge and start afresh.
An AIADMK press release issued by Jayalalithaa said Sasikala, Natarajan, and 11 of their relatives—collectively referred to as the Mannargudi mafia, according to DNA—were being summarily ousted from the party.
Given the inseparable nature of their past relationship, and given also that both are co-accused in a disproportionate assets case, it is doubtful if this break can be pushed beyond limits for both Jaya and Sasikala.
With Sasikala out, many in the Tamil Nadu administration hope that Jaya can get around to the job of administering the state more effectively. In recent months, even though Jaya has gone after the Marans of Sun TV with a vengeance, it has been clear that vendetta will not ultimately give her something to crow about.
The state has not been able to attract any major new investment in recent months. In fact, Peugeot's decision to opt for Gujarat as the site for its new automotive project sent shock-waves in Tamil Nadu which thought it had it in the bag.
In her last stint, Jayalalithaa managed to corral both Ford and Hyundai to come to Tamil Nadu against stiff competition from Maharashtra and Gurgaon.
Despite all accusations of family rule, nepotism, 2G scam, etc, Jaya's predecessor Karunanidhi was lauded for good quality governance. He was hard working (and seen in his office even during late hours and on Sundays) and had handpicked some of the best officers to deliver on his policies and programmes. There has been a serious break in terms of governance since Jaya came, which in fact had surprised even her hardcore supporters.
The break with Sasikala is probably intended to give herself a free hand to get around to the job of governance.