Sleepless in Tamil Nadu

There is no room for peace and quiet in one of the oldest civilisations, Dravidian state Tamil Nadu. Most of us, especially television journalists, have forgotten what an uneventful day without breaking news feel like. From the time former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was admitted in Apollo hospitals on September 22, 2016 to political instability we are witnessing now, it has been a non-stop roller-coaster ride.

It was like watching a political thriller. It had all elements to be box-office hit – motive, money, a brilliant past that weighs on everyone and an obscure future, where people were longing for a hero to save them. You could say that summarises the current political power struggle the State has been subjected to in the past few weeks.

Though recent events hardly ever gives us time to think , it is not very hard to find the source of all these issues. It all points to late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who did not leave a heir and let hell break lose.

Turbulent times that continues unabated started when she was admitted in the hospital for fever and dehydration. From September till she died on December 5, 2016 public were not kept abreast of her health. There would be a press release from time to time that would barely reveal anything. No one was allowed to visit her, except her confidante VK Sasikala and select ministers. This gave rise to speculations, some of which were downright laughable and many that needed clarifications.

During my interaction with autowallas and cab drivers, which was at least 4-5 times a day, I came to realise whatever was just a hearsay was beginning to make more sense. One of the drivers was so sure that Jayalalithaa was killed and was on life support till her confidante could get enough signatures to cover her bases. Even before all these drama unfolded, another driver told me Sasikala had always planned to become CM and was only biding her time. Considering how events unfolded from when she become to general secretary and elevated to the position of the Chief Minister within only two months after her best friend died, you cannot help but question her motives.

It should be noted that Richard Beale, a specialist who treated J Jayalalithaa, met the media to dispel rumours surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death the day after Sasikala was elected to become the Chief Minister. It was too much of a coincidence and did not really quash the rumours as most remained skeptical.

Before going further, you should know why Jayalalithaa and Sasikala are news. Sasikala was running a small video store and was acquainted with Jayalalithaa through common connections. Her husband Natarajan was a Public Relations Officer. They were inseparable and Jayalalithaa’s house became Sasikala’s home and her relatives Illavarasi, TTV Dinakaran and Sudhakaran. Her family was dubbed as Mannargudi Mafia.

Sasikala, her husband Natarajan and her relatives all occupy key positions in businesses and governance at the Centre and State and thus have a say in any decision-making. I’m sure it would not have been difficult to amass enormous amount of wealth given the kind of power they wield. But it was not largely known to the public, for the group had always operated in the background.

True enough, Sasikala was a pillar of support during the time Jayalalithaa was at rock bottom when MGR, her mentor, died. She was with her throughout the ordeal. But that still does not justify her elevation in the party. You should also remember that Sasikala did not hold any party post nor did Jayalalithaa liked her family holding any. Now most people who are claiming they are the party and follow Jayalalithaa’s footsteps, like Natarajan, Sudhakaran and many of her relatives were expelled by Jayalalithaa. It was not lost on the public and few of the reasons why she is resented by public.

Coming back to the present, Sasikala was about to become a Chief Minister and arrangements had started for her swearing-in ceremony. When all seems to be going well for Sasikala, O Panneerselvam who was then caretaker Chief Minister, met the media on Marina Beach and told them that he was forced to quit. It was as if our prayers were answered. OPS, who was once thought to be a dummy and spineless, became a hero overnight. He became a ray of hope. People wished that OPS would takeover, for to them anyone is better than Sasikala.

Given the circumstances, the Governor intervened and postponed the swearing-in. Few days later Supreme Court convicted Sasikala in disproportionate asset case and was sent to jail for four years. Edappadi Palanisamy, who was dubbed her proxy, cemented his position as the CM after he proved his majority in the Assembly amidst chaos and mayhem.

Of course not all was well though Sasikala went to jail and her prospects look grim. People are still furious about a proxy governing the State. Slogans to dissolve the State government and conduct re-election have been resonating in every corner of Tamil Nadu – in tea shops, food joints, offices and anywhere you can think of.  

That is how much public does not want Sasikala to be the face of a State that had been in the forefront in terms of development. That is how much people want to save their home from the clutch of someone who is defying very definition of democracy, not taking into account what people really want.

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