VK Sasikala, who is trying to become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, had just years ago declared in writing that she had “no interest in politics,” said her newly-minted political rival, O Panneerselvam. To make his claim more credible, he said that Ms Sasikala’s promise of political abstinence was written to J Jayalalithaa, who died in December while she was Chief Minister.
After meeting in the 80s, Ms Jayalalithaa and Ms Sasikala grew to be so close that the latter moved into the politician’s vast home in Chennai’s Poes Garden. In interviews, Ms Jayalalithaa, a four-time Chief Minister said her house was run by Ms Sasikala. The women appeared together so frequently that as a corollary of Ms Jayalalithaa being referred to as “Amma” or mother, her companion was dubbed “Chinamma” or mother’s younger sister.
After Ms Jayalalithaa’s death in hospital, her party, the AIADMK said that Ms Sasikala was her natural replacement as leader or General Secretary of the party. Then, over the weekend, it was decided that Ms Sasikala would take over from Mr Panneerselvam as head of the government. For two days, Mr Panneerlsevam, mild-mannered with a career record of standing in for Ms Jayalalithaa when corruption cases forced her out, seemed to have no problem. Then, on Tuesday night, he appeared dramatically at Ms Jayalalithaa’s grave to declare that he had been forced to resign and very much intends to keep his job. “What changed in 48 hours?” asked Ms Sasikala. Mr Panneerselvam had an explanation: Ms Jayalalithaa’s “spirit had appeared before me and urged me to fight.”
Ms Sasikala has called him a liar and has rallied around her 130 of the AIADMK’s state legislators. With their signatures pledging their support, she plans to meet Governor C Vidyasagar Rao to submit her claim to become Chief Minister. Mr Panneerselvam’s camp, in contrast, is pocket-sized, but it hosts heavyweights like V Maitreyan and E Madhusudhanan, consequential leaders in the AIADMK. Providing vast external support is a combative social media campaign, which derides Ms Sasikala for her political inexperience, the AIADMK for submitting to a form of dynastic leadership, and Ms Sasikala’s “family mafia”- her male relatives are tainted by allegations of corruption.
In 2012, Ms Sasikala had to distance herself publicly from them to end an estrangement with Ms Jayalalithaa and return to her home. At the time, Mr Panneerselvam said today, her letter said that she wanted no party post or political role. “I have already dedicated my life to Akka (Jayalalithaa). I want to be a true thangai (younger sibling) for Akka and will live this life for her,” she wrote in the letter brandished today by Mr Pannerselvam. “So what has changed,” he asked, adding that Ms Sasikala’s firm commitment to becoming Chief Minister is “a betrayal of Amma.”