The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bit modified.
VK Sasikala has finally taken over the reins of Tamil Nadu from O Panneerselvam puncturing all those claims of having two power centres in AIADMK and Tamil Nadu. There were indications that all was not well within the party and Sasikala gave clues when she didn’t stay back for OPS speech during the India Today Conclave or when bureaucrats close to OPS were shown doors in recent days.
But it is going to be a difficult terrain for her, both within the party and the Tamil Nadu politics. From a controversial past and tainted family background to lack of political experience and hunger for power, the baggage that comes with her is going to be the big challenge that she needs to overcome, if she has to survive in AIADMK and in Tamil politics, and is she has the time before an adverse ruling by the Supreme Court in the Disproportionate Assets (DA) case bars her from the CM office.
The first and the foremost challenge would be that she will be compared with J Jayalalithaa in whatever she does as the TN CM. Can she be a Jayalalithaa replacement for the AIADMK? Jayalalithaa, the second largest serving women CM of India, was a popular film actress, a charismatic mass orator, a seasoned politician and had become a towering personality, not just in TN, but in the national politics as well.
MGR was a big name, a heartthrob, a cultural icon and a major political name when he formed AIADMK or when Jayalalithaa emerged as AIADMK’s undisputed leader, she was a popular Tamil actress with the public perception that MGR was grooming her as a possible successor. They had the class but they were also the leaders of the masses.
By that comparison, Sasikala has nothing but a controversial past to show that includes the bitter episode when Jayalalithaa had expelled her from her residence, Poes Garden, and AIADMK in 2011. The DA case in which Jayalalithaa was convicted and later acquitted by the Karnataka HC, is pending in the Supreme Court and Sasikala will have to step down from the CM post in case of an adverse ruling. If that happens, it will cut short Sasikala’s political innings and will kill any possibility of her future return. Then there are many FERA violation cases pending against her.
Her husband M Natrajan has been arrested in a land grabbing case. V Divaharan, Sasikala’s brother, has criminal cases against him and has seen jail bars. Her nephew TTV Dinakaran has cases of money laundering, FERA violation and benami transactions pending against him. Her other nephews, Bhaskaran and Venkatesh, have been arrested in corruption and cheating cases. It will be interesting to see how Sasikala keep these controversial names out of the ambit of her governance.
So far, Sasikala has been seen promoting factions in the AIADMK and is seen as a corrupt, power hungry leader who worked in the background to milk benefits for her family and extended clan. Now, first as General Secretary of the AIADMK and then as the TN CM, she has this massive responsibility of emerging as the leader who can effectively bind all factions of the party into a thread, including the all-important caste blocks, Vanniyars, Kongu Vellalar Gounders, Thevars and Dalits, like Jayalalithaa could do. Sasikala has been alleged of having bias towards her caste Thevar.
Let’s see if she has vision and time to bridge these gaps. She has had no firsthand political experience in managing the party and the government together. With her lack of political experience, no one knows how she will take on the proven political mettle of MK Stalin, the DMK leader and M Karunanidhi’s son. Besides, she needs time to strengthen her position in the party even if she has established herself as its first leader. It all depends on how fast she travels from being AIADMK’s first leader to becoming its supremo, as Jayalalithaa was. Her first clear test on this front would be TN civic body polls later this year where she needs to reach out to over 1.5 crore AIADMK members like Jayalalithaa could do.