UPDATED: March 4, 2021 09:05 IST
Four years ago, after dusk on a February evening, O Panneerselvam drove to the samadhi of J Jayalalithaa at the Marina, to launch a revolt against VK Sasikala. Even though OPS came a cropper eventually, his dharmayudham (holy war) contributed immensely to the slander campaign against Sasikala. It painted Sasikala as a power-hungry political operator, out to grab Jayalalithaa’s political legacy within weeks of her demise.
In March 2021, a little over a month after she stepped out of the Bengaluru central prison, serving a four-year-term, Sasikala has made her big move. Taking everyone by surprise, the 66-year-old put out a statement announcing that she would step aside from politics. Underlining that she was a well-wisher of the AIADMK, Sasikala emphasised the need for the party to stay united to ensure that the DMK – who Jayalalithaa had always identified as the common foe – did not come to power.
“I have not hankered after post, title, power. I am grateful to those who have showered me with love and affection. I will step aside from politics so that AIADMK rule can continue,” she wrote.
Sasikala has chosen her words carefully. The operative Tamil phrase used is “Odhungi irundhu”, which translates to “stepping aside”. It does not have the ring of permanence to it and her decision can well be interpreted as a temporary measure. The significance of this subtle play of words cannot be over-emphasised.
Ever since she returned to Chennai last month, speculation has mounted over Sasikala’s next move. In that sense, the statement was an anti-climax.
Is her decision to be taken at face value or is it a case of how Shahrukh Khan’s character described his daring in ‘Baazigar”? He said, “kabhi kabhi jeetne ke liye kuch haarna padta hai. Aur haar kar jeetne waale ko, baazigar kehte hai”. Translated to English it means, “Sometimes to win, you must be prepared to lose and the one who loses to win is called a gambler.”
It is no doubt an audacious gambit. It is an attempt by Sasikala to nullify the negative sentiment around her, to obliterate the tag of the Mannargudi mafia, the label of being a scheming and ambitious politician. With this, she is trying to put herself on a higher pedestal to convey to the people of Tamil Nadu that she is willing to stay away from the political circus.
The two-page statement bears the signature of Sasikala’s astute political mind. With just a month to go before Tamil Nadu votes on 6 April, she hardly had any time to make her political presence felt. More so, with the negativity associated with her after her term in jail.
With no leader of relevance from the ruling AIADMK reaching out to her, Sasikala must have realised this is not the opportune moment to strike. If she had made any move to disturb the status quo within the AIADMK, she would have been accused of hurting Amma’s party and government. If the AIADMK went on to fare poorly in the assembly elections, the blame would have been placed at her door. Now Sasikala has decided to lay down her arms, to fight another day.
Make no mistake, this is the opening move of Sasikala’s Plan B. At a time when other politicians are playing a game of snakes and ladders, Sasikala has shifted to chess.
But the question is what transpired between February 9 when massive crowds greeted her during her drive from Bengaluru to Chennai and March 3? On that day, she had stated that she would be involved in active politics from now on. Who decided on this U-turn? Was it entirely Sasikala’s decision or did anyone else write or direct Sasikala’s script?
That is the whodunnit reigning over Tamil Nadu today.
On the face of it, the AIADMK has reason to be pleased. Because with the deft strokes of her pen, Sasikala has given Edappadi Palaniswami hope that the AIADMK vote won’t be split significantly by her nephew TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK. Dhinakaran’s passport to political success was the presence of Sasikala by his side. Her move to step aside will clip his wings.
EPS could now even be nudged to accommodate Dhinakaran in the NDA to prevent any split of the AIADMK’s original vote bank. EPS has been steadfast in his opposition to Sasikala but may be compelled to concede some ground in view of Sasikala’s move. Dhinakaran sans Sasikala will not be much of a threat to Palaniswami’s leadership. But will EPS do so, is a million-dollar question.
By choosing the party’s good over her nephew, Sasikala has also indicated that family does not always come first. She would want the people of Tamil Nadu to see this in the context of family dynasties that dot the Tamil Nadu political landscape.
What Sasikala has done, is a calculated risk. If the AIADMK does well in the elections, then her ‘vanvaas’ from politics will be an extended one. But if Tamil Nadu votes in the same manner as it did in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the AIADMK won just one of the 39 seats, an SOS from the party cadre asking Chinnamma to return cannot be ruled out. Her letter harping on her “close association” with “Akka” (elder sister) Jayalalithaa is an insurance policy for life after the polls.