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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tamil Nadu Political Drama Has A History To It

Team Being Cynical
I first heard about Shashikala Natarajan in 1995. It was the year when J. Jayalalitha, the then CM of TN, married of her foster son V.N. Sudhakaran in a ceremony costing well over 100 crores. I am told the entire Chennai (then Madras) city was decorated like a bride herself. Only thing missing at that point could be the absence of couple of Guinness Book representatives to declare it as the world’s most extravagant marriage ceremony ever held in human history. For close to half a dozen months the marriage of this foster son remained as the talking point amongst our political gossip corridors. That was one event which DMK shouted a lot about during the next state election which eventually led to Jayalaitha losing it badly in the polls.

The so called political Pundits of that era also held this lavish waste of money in a poor country as the reason number one for AIADMK’s loss. Not to forget, the ultra-show-off of money also led to many investigations being setup by the following DMK government. In one particular case picked up by Subramanian Swamy, which we better know as the disproportionate asset case against both Jayalalitha and Shashikala, the wheels turned full circle, not before throwing Sashikala to four years of imprisonment as announced today. 

Now, why I heard Shashikala’s name during that marriage? Well, when most were discussing about the marriage itself, there were few who were eager to find out details about this foster son. Those efforts revelled that Sudhakaran is the nephew of a woman named Sashikala Natarajan, who was maid-turned-friend-turned-political advisor-turned-closest confidant of J. Jayalalitha. In an interview to one of the channels that time Jayalalitha also called Sashikala as her only true friend. She had truck load of reasons to justify why she needs a close confidant when she has many loyal supporters both within and outside AIADMK. She even narrated how badly she was treated by the party when MGR died. She wasn’t even allowed to have a look at MGR’s body for many hours, she told. In a candid way she said – I don’t want the legacy of mine and the party that I worked tirelessly to establish be hijacked by opportunists in future. By the way, all these answers came when the anchor, quite rightly, grilled JJ on the reasons of spending so much money on a marriage. This is a token of my gratitude towards Sashikala and her family for being there with me in all thick and thin, she added.

But one was little aware that the said interview was the beginning of a filthy internal war. JJ was too cunning a politician to not pick the sentiment of people of Tamil Nadu post the mega wedding. DMK was cashing on the public sentiments which were profoundly against JJ and AIADMK for being so nonchalant towards the poor and the needy of the state. In haste JJ decided to dump her foster son within ten months of the lavish marriage. That was perhaps the first time JJ announced free mixture grinders to all if she is voted to power again. The free doles came because she was aware that the lavish marriage has badly hampered her political stock. But still JJ lost it quite miserably. What went wrong on outside we all know but we may never know the internal equilibrium between JJ and Sashikala. Having said that, it won’t be an entirely wrong guess if we say, the exit of Sudhakaran from Pose Garden would have strained the relationship between the two ladies. It could be well within possibility that both women were pretending as if everything is as picture perfect as it can get. The smell of disatisfaction was even more evident from Sudhakarn’s interviews post his unceremonious fall from JJ’s good books. He not only accused JJ of mismanaging AIADMK but also accused her of threatening him and his wife. He also accused JJ of abusing her power and using it to silence and at times even destroy her enemies, political or otherwise. Though Sashikala distanced herself from her nephew’s outbursts, it is no secret that there was something sinister cooking in the Jayalalitha household. An old snippet from Outlook magazine says it all. Just to manage the scene in his favour, Sudhakaran also blamed Sashikala for all the ill he had to go through but we all know that is far from being the truth. If not, one would need to remind the early 2000 post in ‘The Hindu’ where the secret efforts of Sashikala to patch with her nephew was elaborated with pictures. I am told, that particular investigative journalism strained the relation of Sashikala and JJ further.

In all of this the moot question still largely remains unanswered - who is Sashikala Natarajan. Sashikala remained a mystery woman for the most part of her association with JJ. After JJ’s demise she appears to have got her voice and tried her best to grab the power like how JJ did after MGR’s death but all this while post 1995 mega wedding, Sashikala remained behind the screen. Pictures don’t lie and here this particular picture vindicate the opinion of those who claim Sashikala started her journey from being the personal maid of JJ. She used to travel the world with JJ as a maid and cook and there are enough evidences to lay the facts. And those in AIADMK who accuse Sashikala of slow poisoning JJ can’t certainly be blamed entirely for cultivating unimaginable conspiracy theories. If at all there were any doubts, JJ's hospitalization clears many things. From JJ’s bad health to her hospitalization, it all looks a sloppy affair. Even when JJ was struggling for life in the hospital bed Sashikala was nowhere to be seen. She only appeared after JJ took her last breath. JJ’s death and the subsequent announcement also looks little shoddy.

After JJ died the ugly power struggle in the state has started. Sashikala camp may claim, JJ has her stamping on Sashikala to lead after her death but that is largely nonsense. When a special court convicted JJ in the disproportionate asset case, it was JJ only who bestowed upon Panneerselvam to be the CM in her absence. Had JJ wanted she could have easily picked Sashikala for the job but she instead choose OPS. Knowing JJ and her political acumen, the choice can’t come without a reason or may be many reasons. Now that JJ is no more Sashikala and her camp may play around many of the non-existent wishes of JJ but it is a fact that OPS was always JJ’s first choice and a trusted deputy. I am sure JJ was running her own kitchen cabinet but Sashikala’s role there may be limited to the kitchen itself and quite literally at that. Had JJ wanted she would have included Sashikala in her cabinet a long time back. But she never did so after being in power for so many times. In an article published in 2007 in ‘TOI’ it was mentioned by the author, Sashikala was demanding a ministerial portfolio in the state cabinet which was blatantly rejected by JJ. During that time, the gossip in the rumour mill was that Sashikala may be blackmailing JJ for a ministerial berth. For certain, this claim doesn’t appear entirely as someone’s figment of imagination. I am not sure of my knowledge but I just can’t remember if Sashikala ever fought on AIADMK ticket in any kind of election.

Now that the Supreme Court has convicted Sashikala and sent her to four years in prison, could we see the drama in the state getting to a closure? Honestly I doubt a great lot. Before the SC ruling came I said, the SC ruling may bar Sashikala from becoming the CM or contesting elections for next 10 years but it certainly won’t stop her from elevating one of her yes-men to grab power. Living with a person like JJ for such a long period must have taught Sashikala the art of grabbing power and staying there. As I was expecting, “The Drama Will Prevail” tweeted the AIADMK official handle after the SC verdict came. These are clear signs of what we can expect for TM in coming days. And the days ahead doesn’t appear that lucrative for the state and its populace. Interestingly there are no room for guessing with Sashikala as her decisions come rather quickly. Before she could be bundled behind bars, she along with her supporters held a party level meeting and decided to pick Palaniswamy, a typical yes-man to be the new legislative head of the party. Not only that, they also suspended OPS and 19 other rebelling MLAs from the primary membership of the party. Now officially Palaniswamy can stake a claim on the government but I doubt the OPS camp would let that happen before enacting some more drama.

Fingers crossed from my side. I don’t want to stick my neck out here because it appears too dicey and sloppy situation to predict anything. That said, to make a safe guess, I have a feeling, OPS may get the cake as he has backing from BJP, though inadvertently and also from extremely unexpected quarters like DMK. That is like BSP supporting SP. That is some political cooking, I tell you. 

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