VK Sasikala, the sacked AIADMK chief released last month after a jail term for corruption, signaled that she planned to be a disruptor for Tamil Nadu’s ruling party ahead of approaching state polls as she displayed its flag on her car as she headed to the state by road.
Sasikala, 66, is returning to Tamil Nadu for the first time since her release on January 27 after a four-year jail term for corruption. Till now, she was in Bengaluru, where she was treated for Covid.
While she was in jail, she was removed as AIADMK chief and expelled by E Palaniswami — the man she had handpicked as Chief Minister — as part of a compromise he reached with rebel-turned-deputy O Panneerselvam (aka OPS). While she has challenged her removal in court, the Election Commission has acknowledged the OPS-headed group as the real AIADMK and has permitted them to use the party flag and symbol.
This morning, as Sasikala left for Tamil Nadu from the Prestige Golfshire Club in Bengaluru, where she had been staying since her discharge from hospital, her car flaunted the AIADMK flag. She was seen in the car in a green sari, greeting supporters with folded hands.
The ruling party had complained to the police when she was spotted using the party flag after her release. Later, her team was tacitly warned by the Tamil Nadu police.
“We are not afraid of anyone. The cadre is with us. The AIADMK flag is our property,” state Law Minister CV Shanmugam, who had complained against Sasikala to the police chief a few days ago, told NDTV.
Sasikala’s return is set to shake up Tamil Nadu politics ahead of polls due by May, even though she cannot contest for six years because of her conviction. She belongs to the Thevar community, a key vote bank for the AIADMK.
Sasikala’s supporters, including a section of AIADMK members, are planning a big reception for her return to Tamil Nadu, especially in capital Chennai.
Posters hailing her as “permanent General Secretary of AIADMK”, “Raj Mata (queen mother)” and “Guardian Goddess” have been put up in Chennai by her supporters.
Sasikala’s planned reception may set up a clash with the state administration with the police warning against any big gatherings on account of Covid restrictions.
Just before her comeback, properties owned by her relatives VN Sudhakaran and J Ilavarasi, were confiscated. The Tamil Nadu government said it was following a 2017 Supreme Court order on the two, who had been convicted along with Sasikala in an illegal wealth case.
Sasikala, a close live-in aide of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, took over as AIADMK chief soon after her death in 2016. She made an abortive attempt at taking the post of Chief Minister when she was convicted for corruption by the Supreme Court in a case in which Jayalalithaa was also accused.
Jayalalithaa’s sprawling home at Chennai’s Poes Garden, where Sasikala had also stayed, was turned into a memorial last month in a quiet and rushed function amid uncertainty over whether it will stand legal scrutiny.
Though Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran won Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar assembly constituency after her death, his party AMMK drew a blank in the 2019 national election. But the AIADMK too suffered a near rout in the same election, with the opposition DMK sweeping what was the first vote since Jayalalithaa’s death and the split in the AIADMK.