Sasikala Era Begins

Pushpa is a thorn in Sasikala’s flesh. She belongs to Nadar community which is engaged in a battle for supremacy against the Thevars — community Sasikala and Panerselvam belongs


Post iconic demise of Jayalalithaa, her close aide Shasikala is facing stiff battle from two fronts. One from the family of J Jayalalitha in the form of her niece Deepa Jayakumar and next within the AIADMK party ranks in the form of her namesake Sasikala Pushpa. As the top leadership of the AIADMK pleads with VK Sasikala, the close confidante of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa to step into her shoes, Rajya Sabha MP Sasikala Pushpa wants to scuttle her chances. It is an open war — political and legal — even though Pushpa with few numbers on her side is fighting a losing battle.

Realizing this, Pushpa is firing on all cylinders. On the morning of 5 December, about 12 hours before Jayalalithaa passed away, Pushpa alleged a conspiracy to finish off the former chief minister. Hearing this, VK Sasikala is believed to have broken down before ministers in the Tamil Nadu government. That Pushpa’s target was Sasikala was unambiguous.

Now, Pushpa has gone one step further, approaching the Madras High Court, pleading Sasikala should not be made the General Secretary of the party. Pointing to the AIADMK rule that anyone who has not been a member for five years cannot become the General Secretary, Pushpa says Sasikala stands disqualified. However, AIADMK sources have said they will amend the rule in the party constitution to facilitate Sasikala’s elevation.

Pushpa maintains that the vote in May 2016 was for Jayalalithaa and cannot be usurped by anyone else. Things have also got personal with Pushpa questioning Sasikala’s right to occupy the Poes Garden residence after Jayalalithaa’s death.

None of this finds any takers because for the AIADMK, Sasikala Pushpa is persona non grata. She was expelled from the party in August apparently for getting into an altercation at Delhi airport with DMK MP Tiruchi Siva. But that was only the official reason. In the Rajya Sabha, Pushpa spelt out the treatment allegedly meted out to her at Poes Garden the previous day. In the process, she broke the Omerta code of the AIADMK, where no one dares to step out of line.

On 1 August, an emotional Pushpa went after the top leadership of the party, claiming she was slapped by her “leader” (she did not specify if she was referring to Jayalalithaa), that she was compelled to resign from her post and that her “life was under threat”.

What transpired inside Jayalalithaa’s Veda Nilayam residence at Poes Garden is not known to anyone but if Pushpa’s version is to be believed, she was given the rough treatment. “Where is women’s safety?” she thundered in the Rajya Sabha, even as other AIADMK MPs tried to shout her down. While claiming “gratitude” towards Jayalalitha for making her an MP, she alleged having been “harassed” and “slapped” by her “leader”. With the bitterness that Pushpa is displaying for Sasikala now, questions arise if the latter was the alleged aggressor.

Things were not hunky dory between the two Sasikalas for quite some time. The party’s top two (read Jayalalithaa and Sasikala) had apparently wanted her to quit as MP. The AIADMK women’s wing secretary post was taken away from her in January this year. The circulation of an unverified audio on WhatsApp in which she is allegedly heard badmouthing ministers for not doing enough during the Tamil Nadu floods also went against her. The fact that her phone was tapped indicates that someone high up in the AIADMK was gunning for Pushpa, to finish her off politically.

Pushpa’s growth within the AIADMK was quite dramatic. She was Mayor of Tuticorin, when she was chosen to become the Rajya Sabha MP in 2014. Now, as an expelled MP, she remains an unattached member till her term ends in 2020.

But Pushpa clearly is determined to be a thorn in Sasikala’s flesh. She belongs to the powerful Nadar community that has significant numbers in south Tamil Nadu and is engaged in a battle for supremacy against the Thevars, the community to which Sasikala and chief minister O Panneerselvam belong.

Given the caste faultlines in the AIADMK, Pushpa had obviously calculated that non-Thevars will revolt against Sasikala’s leadership. Her calculations to create an anti-Sasikala front have come to naught after just about every senior leader — from Panneerselvam to Lok Sabha deputy speaker Thambidurai to Kongu caste strongman KA Sengottaiyan — came around to support Sasikala.

In August after she was thrown out of the AIADMK, Sasikala Pushpa had dismissed it as “a party of slaves’’. Witnessing the manner in which everyone has fallen in line to make VK Sasikala the new leader, she will now claim she was right.

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