The Posse is out of Poes Garden

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Jayalalithaa’s surprise move to shunt out Sasikala & Co is being seen as an attempt to ride the anti-corruption wave. Sai Manish reports

 Jayalalithaa and Sasikala
Splitsville, Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, Photo: Hindu Archive

IN THE world of politicians and their doppelgangers, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa stands apart on two visible counts. The conviction with which she clings to those who fill the void in her insecure world of bitter opponents and disposable allies. And the temerity with which she writes off overbearing apparitions and people who whittle down her political fortunes. Her long-time companion got a dose of the latter on 18 December. Yet again.

The last time Jayalalithaa shunted out Sasikala from her Poes Garden residence in 1996, it was a hesitant move done largely to assuage the anger of partymen who blamed the 1996 Assembly election defeat on the misdeeds of Sasikala and her Thevar coterie of small-town opportunists. Jayalalithaa blamed the media for maligning Sasikala and within 11 months welcomed her back into the house and the party.

This time, the expulsion has been rather unceremonious with AIADMK cadre instructed to “stay away” from Sasikala and 11 others, including her nephew and Jaya TV manager TTV Dinakaran and her son (Jaya’s estranged foster son) V Sudhakaran.

The clamour for Sasikala’s ouster and what is dubbed in TN politics as the ‘Mannargudi Mafia’ came not just from the cadre but from small businessmen and medium-size corporates struggling to get deals through the ‘lanjam’ (commission) culture of her relatives, some of whom held executive-level posts in the AIADMK.

Dinakaran
Out of favour, Dinakaran, Photo: Purushotham R

Party insiders reveal that the first warnings went out in September when Jayalalithaa transferred several bureaucrats, including the state intelligence chief, after receiving inputs that Sasikala’s husband M Natarajan had spoke at length with the top cop about possible replacements for the CM’s post in case Jayalalithaa was convicted in the disproportionate assets (DA) case, in which Sasikala is the co-accused.

Having smelled a conspiracy, Jayalalithaa chose her time well. Sasikala’s expulsion, coming as it does just two days before she was to answer her first question in a Bengaluru court to defend herself in the Rs 66 crore scam. Jayalalithaa has already finished her deposition in the case, while Sasikala has twice sought additional time. The strong belief in politico-legal circles is that there is overwhelming evidence against Sasikala as most of the companies used to buy real estate are in the name of Sasikala and her close relatives.

Jayalalithaa has submitted plenty of documents in addition to her answers to prove that she was just a ‘dormant partner’ in the firms promoted by Sasikala when they went on a property shopping spree in 1991-96. In the event of a conviction, Jayalalithaa wants to disassociate from anyone whose corrupt credentials would put a brake on her political fortunes. The DA case is the only corruption case that is still pending against Jayalalithaa and she would want to see this over before she begins her national campaign on a clean slate.

Although Sasikala is the most discussed name in the controversy, others who have faced the axe have gone unnoticed. These were the men who leveraged their kinships to control the party and make personal fortunes by controlling the bureaucracy and crony ministers.

One of them is Dinakaran, the guiding force behind Jaya TV. He is dubbed as the one who changed the face of AIADMK by methodically decimating the entire middle leadership of the party immediately after Sasikala’s re-entry. As the secretary of the Jayalalithaa Pervai, Dinakaran took down three senior Thevar leaders by getting them expelled in 2000. So bitter was the vengeance that one of the leaders, S Somasundaram, quit politics. Another floated his own party.

Ten others were expelled by Jayalalithaa, re-admitted and deliberately sidelined. Many of them, such as IT Minister KA Sengottaiyan, are now back in the reckoning and were seen as instrumental in approaching a senior political analyst to confide the growing influence of Sasikala’s men in every department.

‘Once the DA case is settled and the 2014 polls over, Jaya would get Sasikala back,’ says a political analyst

Insiders have told TEHELKA that next on the anvil would be to clean up the mess that Dinakaran has created in Jaya TV. Despite an increase in advertisement revenue, the channel’s revenue has remained at the same figure since inception. Jayalalithaa was miffed when she tuned into a news bulletin only to see her statement on welfare schemes being played in loops rather than a single news story on the raging 2G scam in which prominent DMK leaders were losing face.

Although political analyst Cho Ramaswamy does not deny having advised Jayalalithaa on the impending doom if she remained proximate to Sasikala, he has been quick to catch the mood in the party. “The people are seeing this as a positive development. The cadres and people on the streets are also happy with the move,” he says.

The expulsion of Sasikala & Co. is being seen as an attempt to prepare Jayalalithaa for riding the anti-corruption wave to garner a majority of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections.

Political observers also believe that it has opened the doors for Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy to again strike a chord with the chief minister. Swamy had always been wary of Sasikala, even calling Jayalalithaa her “performing monkey”. Speaking to TEHELKA after announcing his decision to join the NDA, he said, “Her husband has never been allowed to enter Poes Garden. Despite that, Sasikala has never moved out, choosing instead to play a double game by allowing her husband and other supporters to conspire against Jayalalithaa. This duality in her character had to come out some day and her expulsion was pending.”

THE EXIT of Sasikala opens the door for Swamy to once again be the ‘tea party man’. Swamy, who claims to have introduced Jayalalithaa to national politics with the 1999 tea party and identifies the AIADMK supremo’s tendency to “derive psychotic pleasure from humiliating people” as a character flaw, will now be increasingly relied upon by the BJP-led NDA to deal with the woman and her unpredictable ways.

Political analysts point out that Sasikala is too close to Jayalalithaa to be left out in the cold forever. Says political scientist M Lakshaman, “In the times of Anna Hazare and Lokpal Bill, no one wants to be seen around with a notoriously corrupt person, one whose image is sullied in the eyes of the people of the state. There is a feeling that Sasikala would have to face jail in the DA scam. Once the DA case is settled and the 2014 elections over, Jayalalithaa would want to get her back.”

Jayalalithaa, who has had three major Cabinet reshuffles and constant bureaucratic transfers since she assumed power in June, has ended the year with a stern message to her cadre and left herself with a good two years to make an impact on the national stage.

For Sasikala, who was Jayalalithaa’s lucky charm during her victorious election campaign, it might be some time out in the wilderness trying to rein in her “violent to the core, crude, nouveau riche, mafia-like” band of relatives.

For the woman who made an entry into Jayalalithaa’s life selling her movie cassettes and ended up being her psychological prop, it is a time to lie low and save Jayalalithaa the embarrassment when she is in the process of making her most decisive leap in national politics.

As the doppelganger myth goes, the only way to escape evil staring in your face is to confront it. Jayalalithaa seems to have done more than that.

Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
sai.manish@tehelka.com

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