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What VK Sasikala's move to 'step aside' from public life means for poll-bound Tamil Nadu

Political equations seem to have changed overnight with the AIADMK-BJP alliance on a stronger wicket than the rival Congress-DMK combine, which is struggling to sew up a seat arrangement for the elections

March 04, 2021 / 01:42 PM IST
File image: VK Sasikala

File image: VK Sasikala

Poll-bound Tamil Nadu, where dramatic twists and turns have held its voters in perpetual thrall, is set for another mind bender.

VK Sasikala, expelled All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader and close aide of former Tamil Nadu chief minister, J Jayalalithaa, announced on March 3 that she has decided to stay away from politics and public life.

The announcement ended speculation that Sasikala, after her recent release from a Bengaluru prison, would seek to take control of her former party ahead of the upcoming assembly polls in the state.

In a statement, Sasikala stated that she wants Jayalalithaa's `golden rule’ to be established in Tamil Nadu, urging party cadres to stay united to secure victory against the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

Political analysts said that Sasikala's move now becomes the X-factor in Tamil Nadu politics, where the opposition alliance led by the DMK is taking on the incumbent AIADMK, a senior alliance partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They said it could help the AIADMK-BJP combine, as the two parties were not on the same page on her return to the AIADMK fold.

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“Her triumphant return had created doubts. However, her decision to quit politics is a big boost for AIADMK,”  Sumanth Raman, a Chennai-based political commentator said in a tweet.

READ: V K Sasikala returns to Tamil Nadu after four years; AIADMK says she has no link with the party

In an unexplained change of stand, Sasikala, 66, had announced on February 8 that she will return to `active politics’, a development that had caused disquiet in political circles, particularly in the ruling party AIADMK that had sacked her in August 2017 when she was in jail. Many saw it as a direct challenge to chief minister E Palaniswami, or EPS, as Jayalalithaa's `true successor’.

But after Sasikala’s declaration, the AIADMK alliance will breathe freer. Experts said it provided a major boost to the Chief Minister and his deputy, O Paneerselvam or OPS. Her call would help AIADMK retain the support of her influential Thevar community, which is also a key vote bank for the party.

The move is likely to have a bearing on the opposition camp, the DMK-Congress alliance, amid indications that seat-sharing talks between the two allies are yet to make a headway.

The Congress, which won eight seats out of the 41 it contested in the last assembly election, wants at least 30 seats this time, which is 10 more than the what the DMK has been offering.

With Sasikala’s U-turn, analysts predict that the DMK would need to climb down from its high horse and concede more seats to the Congress.

Interestingly, the former AIADMK general secretary has never contested elections or addressed public rallies but was a hugely influential force within the AIADMK at the height of her power as Jayalalithaa’s principal aide.

Soon after the former Chief Minister’s death in December 2016, Sasikala had stepped in as party chief and was set to assume her post before she was handed a four-year jail sentence on charges of corruption.

She handpicked EPS, who had unseated OPS after he rebelled against Sasikala's claim to become Chief Minister. Later, however, when she was behind bars, the two factions merged and expelled her in September 2017 along with her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran and others.

Also, read: The significance of Sasikala’s return to Tamil Nadu politics

Her return had certainly pumped up the Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). The party won the assembly by-election for the RK Nagar seat in Chennai and secured close to six percent of the vote in the 2019 general election.

However, Dhinakaran’s next move following Sasikala’s decision to stay away remains to be seen. Some reports suggest that he had tried to convince her aunt not to quit politics.

In the ever-shifting sands of Tamil Nadu politics, Raman said that this decision is valid until elections. ``After that all bets are off. Expect an exodus from AMMK to start soon. EPS is likely to accommodate up to six to eight AMMK leaders with the AIADMK ticket,” he predicted.

The 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly goes to polls in a single phase, along with Kerala and Puducherry, on April 6. The results will be announced on May 2 along with four other states and one Union Territory.
Gulam Jeelani is a journalist with over 11 years of reporting experience. Based in New Delhi, he covers politics and governance for Moneycontrol.

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