Since former Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa died on December 5 of cardiac arrest following 75-day struggle for life in hospital, her close confidante Sasikala Natarajan is the centre of political discourse in the state.
The AIADMK leaders seem to have accepted Sasikala (60) – who lived in the shadow of Jayalalithaa for over three decades – as their new leader.
As in all probability, the departed Amma may remain as permanent general secretary of AIADMK, the party leaders are deliberating on creating a post of additional general secretary for Chinnama (as Sasikala is referred to in party circles).
Sasikala’s rise to power is as enigmatic and controversial as her relationship with Jayalalithaa.
Here are 10 interesting things marking her ascent from a housewife to the next AIADMK chief:
1. Not much is known about Sasikala’s childhood and education. She was said to be born in Thiruthuraipondi in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu.
She married M. Natarajan, who worked as an assistant public relation officer in the Tamil Nadu government on a temporary basis. Natarajan was a supporter of DMK chief and former chief minister M. Karunanidhi, who is said to have attended their marriage reception.
2. After her husband lost his job in 1976 during the Emergency, they had to pawn their jewelleries to survive.
By the time Natarajan regained his job three years later, Sasikala had started a video renting and recording shop along with her brother in Chennai, recording marriages and other social functions.
3. In the early 1980s, in the hope to expand their business, Natarajan requested IAS officer V.S. Chandralekha, who was then the district collector of South Arcot, to introduce Sasikala to Jayalalithaa to record party functions.
Jayalalithaa had just been made the propaganda secretary of AIADMK by her mentor and the then Tamil Nadu chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran.
4. That was the beginning of the relationship between Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, which grew stronger over the years.
Following the death of MGR, Jayalalithaa was humiliated and sidelined politically by his family members and other influential leaders. She had no friend to look up to except Sasikala Natarajan who stood by her side in the time of the crisis.
5. In 1988, Sasikala moved to Jayalalithaa’s residence Poes Garden along with Natarajan, who had by the time become an effective lobbyist having friends both in AIADMK and DMK.
A year later, Jayalalithaa, who was the leader of the opposition, was assaulted in the Tamil Nadu assembly by the ruling DMK MLAs.
She suspected that Natarajan was playing games and drove him out of Poes Garden. Sasikala chose to remain with Jayalalithaa, but at the same time gradually engaged several relatives of hers in Poes Garden to take care of Jayalalithaa’s household.
6. After Jayalalithaa became the chief minister for the first time in 1991, Sasikala’s family members were accused of amassing wealth through corrupt practices.
The display of ostentation at the wedding of Sasikala’s nephew Sudhakaran, who had been adopted by Jayalalithaa, in 1995 caused a political storm.
All these also dented Jayalalithaa’s image and AIADMK suffered a crushing defeat in the assembly polls in 1996, winning just four seats out of the 168 it contested.
7. During her third term as chief minister, Jayalalithaa expelled Sasikala, her husband and several relatives from AIADMK in December 2011. She and her relatives were also banished from Poes Garden.
But 100 days later, Sasikala was back in the “garden” (as Jaya’s residence is known in party circle) after assuring the CM that she had severed her relationship with her husband and relatives.
8. Despite her assurance, media in Tamil Nadu alleged, Sasikala Natarajan continued to support her family members who controlled over 30 companies dealing with mining, export-import, real estate, transport, liquor and entertainment.
9. When Jayalalithaa was jailed by a special court in Bangalore on September 27, 2014 over a disproportionate asset case, Sasikala too went to jail with her.
On May 11, 2015, however, a special bench of Karnataka high court set aside their conviction and acquitted them.
Exactly a year later, Jayalalithaa steered AIADMK to power for a consecutive second term and became the chief minister for the fifth time.
10. After Jayalalithaa died, Sasikala stood beside her casket all along the rituals, while Natarajan, whom the departed leader strongly disliked, attended the VIPs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi touching Sasikala to console her was a strong message that she was in charge.
And when she performed the last rites for Jayalalithaa, it was known to everybody that she was set to take the reins of AIADMK.