Jayalalithaa is gone, but the buzz at her Poes Garden residence is far from over. The house has a new master. By the way things are going in Tamil Nadu there seems to be a new master for the state, the party as well as its cadre. From being just a shadow of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan has turned kingmaker in Tamil Nadu.
The AIADMK cadre has one simple task: Give people the impression that everybody wants Sasikala to lead the party. That impression comes at a cost. The tactic of keeping oneself relevant in the public eye while calculatingly shying away from it. And Sasikala is playing her cards extremely well at that.
Since the time Jayalalithaa was hospitalised, Sasikala has been calling the shots. The 70-odd days that Jayalalithaa spent in the hospital became Sasikala's time to register herself as the party's obvious choice as its next leader. Her first success came from keeping Jayalalithaa's look-alike niece away from the hospital as well as her funeral.
Newfound bonhomie for 'Chinnamma'
'Chinnamma' quickly become the by-word as if would replace the vacuum that 'Amma' left behind. There were reservations about it and concerns over the 'Mannargudi' clan but Sasikala kept her family at bay, including her husband Natarajan, to win the cadres' confidence. It did the trick for some and others simple fell in place due to lack of an option.
The party's official channel Jaya TV and IT cell started promoting Sasikala and urging her to lead them with videos, photos, interviews and selective statements of Jayalalithaa from her previous interviews. A day doesn't pass by without the AIADMK's social media site putting out a picture of some or the other organisation asking Sasikala to take over the reigns of the party. It is truly surprising how photos of Sasikala have taken over all tweets and posts relating to Jayalalithaa on their social media timeline.
Then came the journalists to 'condole' but ended up enhancing her significance. Senior journalists, editors and media honchos made a beeline in succession much to the dislike of many who have been tormented with defamation by the Jayalalithaa government. Then came the vice chancellors, yet again in the guise of condoling Jayalalithaa. Academicians calling on a person who neither holds a public office nor is a constitutional figure was slammed by other political parties.
The latest addition to this list was the film fraternity who 'urged Chinnamma to lead the party and guide Tamil Nadu'. The new found bonhomie with Sasikala who was a non-entity all these years has raised suspicion. The courtesy calls are no coincidence.
What is keeping AIADMK cadres busy these days?
The local leaders of AIADMK have become head hunters, or should we say party hunters. A dozen notepad parties are being brought to Poes Garden so they can 'pledge their support to Chinnamma'. Autorikshaw organisations, district party units, labour, textile, shop and establishment union, all all are being led to Sasikala.
Each visit is photographed. Dramatic, crying, pleading groups of people, begging with Sasikala to take over the leadership of the party. Picture perfect for someone looking to build the right public image. 'I am here because the people want me' image.
Sasikala names a baby after Jayalalithaa. Sasikala congratulates a paralympic gold medalist, Sasikala holds a meeting before the chief minister calls for the first cabinet meeting, Sasikala appears in all AIADMK posters across the state and Sasikala accepts all condolence messages coming for Jayalalithaa.
It is as though all roads in Chennai lead to Poes Garden and a visit to the city isn't complete without meeting the new master.
Sasikala, the boss
Right from the time Jayalalithaa was being treated at the Apollo Hospital, Sasikala imposed her sway over the party leadership. Hours before the hospital officially declared Jayalalithaa's death, all AIADMK MLAs were forced to sign on plain sheets of paper.
During Jayalalithaa's funeral and final rites, she made her proximity to the departed leader quite clear. Yes, Tamil Nadu has a chief minister but Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena chose to write an official letter to Sasikala and not O Panneerselvam.
Sasikala, for the first time, wrote to the President of India, the prime minister and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi about how much relief their visit had brought to 'her personally and the people of Tamil Nadu.' Many leaders of the AIADMK who have always distributed calendars and diaries with photos of Jayalalithaa are now replacing it with Sasikala's photos. They know who the power centre of the state now is. Sasikala is doing everything right and the party is playing along.