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Explained: Will V K Sasikala return to politics after release from prison?

In her close association with Jayalalithaa that lasted for about three decades, which includes at least four poll victories in the state elections, Sasikala has been always behind the scene; she never addressed a rally, nor contested polls.

V K Sasikala, close confidante of late J Jayalalithaa, is expected to come out of Parappana Agrahara central prison in Bengaluru on or before January 27, her counsel N Raja Senthoor Pandian told the Madras High Court during the hearing of a case about her income for the year 1994-95. In the disproportionate asset case in which Sasikala was convicted, Jayalalithaa was the first accused. Ahead of her release from prison, there is a question that is doing the rounds: Will Sasikala return to politics?

Who is Sasikala?

Sasikala, who hails from Mannargudi, a small town near Thanjavur, was introduced to Jayalalithaa sometime in 1984, the year Jayalalithaa joined the AIADMK. Sasikala was running a video cassette business. They became closer, and her husband Natarajan’s skills in public relations helped Jayalalithaa as well. The couple moved to Jayalalithaa’s residence in late 1980s. After MGR’s death, Jayalalithaa had faced too many challenges in political life and it was Natarajan who played the role of a kingmaker and ensured her physical safety as well. It was Sasikala’s close relatives who guarded Jayalalithaa.

When Natarajan was told to leave Jayalalithaa camp in 1990, Sasikala chose to stay with Jayalalithaa without her husband. And until Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, she lived at Veda Nilayam residence at Poes Garden, every day, except for about four months when the women had fallen out.

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Was Sasikala powerful when Jayalalithaa was alive?

In her close association with Jayalalithaa that lasted for about three decades, which includes at least four poll victories in the state elections, Sasikala has been always behind the scene; she never addressed a rally, nor contested polls.

But whether it were poll negotiations or seat-sharing talks with allies or even crucial appointments, elevations and decisions at the government, Sasikala was the woman who ran the show.

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What made Sasikala a villain and Jayalalithaa heroic?

When many glorified and still continue to worship Jayalalithaa, everything that went wrong was blamed on Sasikala. She was assumed to have a role in mafia rule during the first regime in 1991 or rampant corruption to even her death.

Besides, Sasikala’s extended family and relatives with questionable past too painted her as a villain.

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However, many officers and leaders who witnessed Jayalalithaa and her style of functioning would vouch for the unpopular fact that Sasikala did not do anything more than what Jayalalithaa wanted her to do. Moreover, Jayalalithaa’s life was so dependent on Sasikala that she wouldn’t have had so many victories without Sasikala and leaders such as Panneerselvam or Palaniswami who were brought in by her.

Will Sasikala’s faction merge with AIADMK?

Ever since she was sent to prison, things have changed a lot. When her strategic moves after Jayalalithaa’s death helped defeat rebel O Panneerselvam and capture the government, her close confidante Edappadi K Palaniswami too ditched her later. He joined hands with Panneerselvam and sacked her from AIADMK even as it was she who had made him CM.

Even as her nephew TTV Dhinakaran managed to launch a rebel outfit and defeated AIADMK and DMK, multiple challenges including several financial, corruption-related cases pending against the family made him submissive.

Ahead of the May 2021 polls, with BJP as alliance partner, AIADMK leaders admit that there are negotiations underway for a merger. When it is a fact that a merger with Sasikala faction would make AIADMK stronger — Dhinakaran’s 5 per cent vote share in the last polls came from the 15 per cent of AIADMK votes — Palaniswami, who wields maximum power in the party, may hamper the merger as he knows he will be sidelined if Sasikala is back.

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