A walk down Poes Garden’s Binny Road, leading to Jayalalithaa’s ‘Veda Nilayam’ residence, one is greeted by a series of posters of the former Chief Minister together with the CM-in-waiting Sasikala.
What’s striking is that Sasikala’s image is defaced in most posters, or simply torn off.
But it’s not just at Poes Garden, the public sentiment against Sasikala was also apparent at the massive jallikattu protests in January, with posters attacking then CM O Panneerselvam and Sasikala in equal measure. The disgruntled voices within the ruling AIADMK also seem to be fanning the flames.
If Sasikala’s elevation has been expected since Jayalalithaa’s demise, just why is there so much outrage against her occupying public office?
Sasikala and her Mannargudi family have been unable to shake off either the corruption charges or the perception of corruption against them. There is palpable fear that the family will take control of the government and its machinations soon. Other than the public disdain for the Mannargudi family, seen by many as a parasitic entity, two ‘cardinal sins’ by Sasikala could perhaps be the reason.
Secrecy surrounding Jayalalithaa’s health and death
One of the biggest mistakes Sasikala made was keeping Jayalalithaa’s health status so tightly under wraps. Considered Jayalalithaa’s right hand, Sasikala could very well have ensured that timely medical bulletins were issued by Apollo Hospital, where the CM was admitted for 75 days before her death. Instead, with barely any information coming from the hospital or the state government, uncertainty was allowed to fester and grow. Neither were AIADMK leaders allowed to meet her during her hospitalisation nor Governor Vidyasagar. Inevitably, rumour-mongering gave way to conspiracy theories, which were never dismissed with solid medical updates.
Following Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5 last year, the circumstances surrounding her death were never revealed until Monday. A terse bulletin stating that she had a “cardiac arrest” was all that her supporters and the public were given to come to terms with her death. It was no surprise then that a five-year-old speculative report that Jayalalithaa was being “slowly poisoned” by Sasikala and her family was trending on social media, hours after demise. These conspiracies should have been nipped in the bud in 2012 and more so in the aftermath of her death. But those around Sasikala hoped ignoring these allegations would make the problem go away. Two months later, it still hasn’t.
On Monday, a press conference was called by Dr Richard Beale, the London-based consultant intensivist who treated the late CM. But instead of putting to rest the conspiracies floating around Jayalalithaa’s death, the government-facilitated presser appeared to agitate Sasikala’s detractors, who questioned its timing. Dr Beale’s ‘limited availability’ did not seem a convincing reason for those who have been up in arms against Sasikala being sworn in as Chief Minister.
Ignoring public sentiment
Sasikala’s other grave error is ignoring the public mood. While public memory is indeed short, ‘Chinamma’ couldn’t have possibly thought that the people of Tamil Nadu would forget a larger-than-life persona like Jayalalithaa so soon. The void she has left behind was palpable in the IT raids against Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao, the large scale jallikattu protests and in the violence that followed. The oft-repeated question after each of these incidents was, “Had Jayalalithaa been alive, would this have happened?”
The public anger against Sasikala has come in waves, manifesting itself in petitions seeking details on Jayalalithaa’s death, or in demanding that her swearing-in ceremony be stayed. It has come in the form of songs of dissent and in memes on the internet. It has also come in the voices of AIADMK leaders and party functionaries.
Instead of acknowledging the public anger and deferring the decision to elevate Sasikala, it is with its typical arrogance and derision that the party went ahead with its plans.
And while her supporters may point to her democratically elected party MLAs ‘unanimously’ choosing her as their leader, ignoring the people’s voice at this juncture may indeed be a ‘cardinal sin’. A political party has to always go back to the people for a fresh mandate, and it is then that people’s anger will manifest as rejection.