Not there, still there… Sasikala wins the power round

Rajat Kain

Chennai: AIADMK General Secretary V K Sasikala. Photo - PTI

Chennai: AIADMK General Secretary V K Sasikala.
Photo – PTI

It was Jayalalithaa in photos and Sasikala in slogans all the way as AIADMK cadre rejoiced the news of Edapaddi Palaniswami forming the next government in Tamil Nadu. The state has seen a bitter power tussle within the ruling party in the last few days.

But now, the confusion is over and uncertainty has ended. Sasikala has won this round of power battle, even in absentia.

The battle of wits and waits between the two factions of AIADMK has been playing out in open for the last 10 days between two individuals of destiny – VK Sasikala Natrajan and O Panneerselvam.

While Sasikala was chosen to lead the party after the demise of AIADMK’s undoubted numero uno J Jayalalithaa last year December 5, Pannerselvam, her oft-repeated pick for a stand-in, was sworn in as the Chief Minister.

But exactly two months later, Sasikala was elevated by her party as the legislature party leader, the one who’ll lead them in the assembly. That was followed by the resignation of O Panneerselvam. Stage looked set for Sasikala’s coronation but twists followed soon.

Hours after Supreme Court hinted that its verdict on Disproportionate Assets case, where Sasikala, along with Jayalalithaa were accused, will be out in a week’s time, Panneerselvam had a change of heart.

FILE: Chennai: O Panneerselvam sitting in a meditation in front of late J Jayalalithaa's burial site at the Marina Beach in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Feb 7, 2017. Photo - PTI

FILE: Chennai: O Panneerselvam sitting in a meditation in front of late J Jayalalithaa’s burial site at the Marina Beach in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Feb 7, 2017.
Photo – PTI

Spending near 40 minutes in silence at Jayalalithaa’s memorial on the serene evening of February 7, he rose up to claim himself a true torchbearer of her legacy.

Corridors of power were donned with intrigues and power games. O Panneerselvam held a meeting with Governor C Vidyasagar Rao two days later, where he claimed he was “forced” to resign. In the days to follow, the crack in party’s surface got the visibility and it only grew acrimonious between the two.

Amid the rounds of meetings and representation with the governor, both Panneerselvam and Sasikala factions claimed numbers on their side, though the jostle was all public. Party leaders in New Delhi, owing allegiance to Sasikala, briefly disrupted the Parliament proceedings last week seeking early decision by the Governor.

Meanwhile, support began to trickle in for Panneerselvam, beginning with Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan, followed by three Lok Sabha members PR Sundaram, K Ashok Kumar and V Sathyabama. Some MLAs too joined the camp, labelled as “rebel” by Sasikala faction. AIADMK’s Presidium Chairman E Madhusudanan too followed the suit, only to be sacked hours later by the party chief.

The shifting power struggle kept drawing attention with Panneerselvam camp getting the support of five more MPs, taking its strength to all but 10.

The drama, however, went notches up this Monday with more than 130 party legislatures reaching a resort at Koovathur, about 80 km from the state capital Chennai. Sasikala too left the Poes Garden to hold “key discussions” with the MLAs.

And a day later, Sasikala’s political career received a big jolt and came to a near standstill after the Supreme Court convicted her in 21-year-old DA case.

As the developments gave way to celebrations in Panneerselvam camp, Sasikala began counting her choices, which were depleting fast.

The same evening, loyalist 63-year-old Edapaddi K Palaniswami, was chosen as the party leader in legislative assembly and Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran as party’s number 2. As Sasikala took road to Bengaluru to surrender, she had firmly put her faction of the party en-route to power.