After All Day Drive From Chennai Sasikala Now Jailed In Bengaluru VK Sasikala this evening drove up to a prison in Bengaluru where she has been sentenced to four years in prison for corruption in a case that involves J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister who died in December and was the leader of Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the AIADMK. A crowd of supporters greeted her convoy to signal they remain loyal to her. The 61-year-old, wearing a brown sari, left Chennai in the morning after stopping to pay tribute at Ms Jayalalithaa’s memorial, where, her party said, she took “a mighty vow.” It did not elaborate on what she pledged.
Last evening, she broke down as she addressed about 120 legislators at a resort in Chennai which, as of about five days ago, has turned into a party outpost. “They can imprison me, but they cannot imprison my care for you,” she told them, adding, “wherever I am, I will be with the party.”
Ms Sasikala, till last morning, was plotting to be Chief Minister, but the Supreme Court nullified those plans by stating that in the early 90s, during Ms Jayalalithaa’s first term in office, the women conspired on a get-rich-quick scheme that included forcing owners of real estate to sell them land at big discounts. Along with Ms Sasikala, her nephew Sudhakaran (adopted by Ms Jayalalithaa only to be disowned a year later) and sister-in-law Ilavarasi, who drove to Bengaluru with her today, were also convicted. Immediately after the verdict, Ms Sasikala devoted her attention to ordering a complete rebuild of the AIADMK’s top line-up. In place of her, the party’s new presumptive Chief Minister is her loyalist, E Palanisamy. She remains General Secretary; her nephew, TTV Dinakaran is her deputy. In 2011, he was among 12 members of Ms Sasikala’s family, apart from her husband and her, who were expelled from the AIADMK by Ms Jayalalithaa, who indicted them for working against her and the party. Three months later, to return to the AIADMK and Ms Jayalalithaa’s home, which she shared for more than 20 years, Ms Sasikala apologized and disowned the men in her family.
At Ms Jayalalithaa’s funeral, however, her husband, controversial entrepreneur M Natarajan, was conspicuous in the crowd. Party insiders were astounded, but on record, the AIADMK said a grief-stricken Sasikala, who performed her mentor’s last rites, needed all the support she could get.
Ms Sasikala has re-entered the prison where Ms Jayalalithaa and she were lodged in 2014 after their first conviction by a lower court. After their acquittal, they returned to Chennai and Ms Jayalalithaa to office. She was profusely welcomed back by O Panneerselam, who had stood in for her earlier as well. He was known for his abject devotion which manifested in traits like refusing, as a show of deference, to occupy her office or spot in the legislature when he was filling in.
It was therefore no surprise that he was selected by Ms Sasikala to become head of the state hours after Ms Jayalalithaa’s death. While he ran the government, the party placed her firmly at its centre, appointing her General Secretary, which was Ms Jayalalithaa’s title for nearly 20 years. Then, the AIADMK decided that just like her predecessor, Ms Sasikala should twin as Chief Minister. Mr Panneerselvam wrote a letter of resignation to Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and was asked to – once again – fill in as Chief Minister till Ms Sasikala went through the formalities of taking charge.
A rush of disruptors, however, emerged suddenly. The Supreme Court said it was ready to rule on her case; public opinion surged against Ms Sasikala’s ascension because of her political inexperience and her family’s allegedly dodgy business dealings; Mr Panneerselvam strode away from Ms Jayalalithaa’s shore-side memorial to state he wanted to keep the gig.
Ms Sasikala retaliated by packing about 125 state legislators or MLAs to the resort where they remain largely sequestered, despite stating on cue for cameras that their stay is voluntary. Mr Panneerselvam began sourcing support, and now has 11 MLAs on his team.
As Ms Sasikala enters jail, her party awaits the Governor’s decision on whether the man she has chosen as proxy – Mr Palaniswamy – will be asked to take oath and then a trust vote.