Jayalalithaa-Sasikala Natarajan friendship: Soul sisters whose relationship soured

The relationship between J Jayalalithaa and her companion Sasikala Natarajan has been quite well-documented in the history of Tamil Nadu politics — it has been both tumultuous and rewarding for both of them alike. In fact, Jayalalithaa's relationships with MGR and Karunanidhi, which will merit two separate pieces altogether, have only been more frenzied, perhaps at times even less.

As the story goes, the credit of introducing Sasikala to Jayalalithaa belongs to IAS officer-turned-politician VS Chandralekha, who hired Sasikala's husband, R Natarajan as her PRO. In the 1980s, when Jayalalithaa entered politics, the two grew reportedly close, with Sasikala even wanting to film a video of the "glamourous propaganda secretary" to sell at a huge profit, writes The Sunday Guardian. Soon, the Mannargudi-based Sasikala started taking charge around Jayalalithaa's house — this was during the time when MGR was hospitalised, writes Vaasanthi in Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen — and had become the latter's confidante.

 Jayalalithaa-Sasikala Natarajan friendship: Soul sisters whose relationship soured

File image of Jayalalithaa (centre) and Sasikala Natarajan (right). Reuters

Vaasanthi, in fact, dedicates a chapter to the duo (see The Woman Who Knew Too Much) where she writes that a section of Jayalalithaa's faithful supporters resented their very relationship — Jayalalithaa even declared Sasikala her "udanpiravaa sagodhari (sister not related through blood)" Sasikala and her relatives soon began to rein royal at the household, the press dubbed them the 'Mannargudi mafia'. Rumours started flying around about Sasikala's corrupt practices of acquiring land in and around Chennai and Thanjavur, movable and immovable properties.

Jayalalithaa, who had adopted Sasikala's nephew Sudhakaran, announced his wedding (September 1995) to Sathyalakshmi, the granddaughter of actor Sivaji Ganesan — this naturally raised eyebrows. But more importantly, it gave rise to the infamous picture of Jayalalithaa and Sasikala dressed as twins, clad in garish golden-orange saris and decked in diamond splendour. The extravagant wedding consisted of 10 dining halls that could hold a capacity of 25,000 people; state machinery was royally misused with the TNEB being used to supply power to the hall, Metrowater tankers used to supply seven lakh litres of water and government vehicles employed for transport. Sudhakaran later distanced himself from his 'aunt', following which he accused "that side" of making threatening calls to him.

A year later, AIADMK lost in the 1996 Assembly elections and Sasikala was arrested by the DMK government for violating the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA); Natarajan then pushed aside journalists in a dramatic moment, following which he was arrested. Jayalalithaa then distanced herself from her friend but soon came around a few months later.

But one of the biggest scandals that affected the duo is the Tansi land deal: The CBCID charged that the 3.78 acre-land in Chennai's Guindy industrial estate, which belonged to Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation Limited or Tansi, was bought by Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises — where Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were shareholders — at a price lower than the market price, in 1991-92. This incurred a loss to the government. Judge S Thangaraj of Madras High Court announced that Jayalalithaa was acquitted. Ultimately, the Supreme Court in 2003 also acquitted Jayalalithaa in the case, reported Rediff.com.

On 19 December, 2011, Jayalalithaa expelled Sasikala, Natarajan and 12 of their relatives from the AIADMK's primary membership, reports Frontline. This expulsion lasted a mere 100 days or so before Sasikala officially joined the AIADMK in 2000 and became a member of its general council.

Today, a weathered Sasikala, clad in a simple black sari, stands by her friend's remains, perhaps wondering what the future sans Jayalalithaa might hold for her.

Updated Date: Dec 06, 2016 14:36:15 IST