Golden Bay resorts in Koovathur was in the eye of the storm as the political drama in Tamil Nadu unfolded with O Panneerselvam rebelling against the Sasikala faction. In a press meet, the caretaker CM lashed out against the Sasikala family and announced his intentions to reclaim the CM chair if the people so wished.
To counter this unexpected move, Sasikala bundled over 100 MLAs to the Koovathur resort where they stayed from February 8 till the time Edappadi Palaniswami won the Trust Vote in the Assembly.
In these ten days, the resort was under much scrutiny from the public and the media. Wild rumours about what was going on inside, the expenses involved, and the ownership of the resort were doing the rounds. TNM spoke to a few reliable sources to get the real picture.
How much did it cost?
According to a source from the AIADMK who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the stay cost Rs 2800 per day per person for the first two days. All 56 rooms in the resort, a large villa, all other amenities like conference halls and swimming pools were booked by the AIADMK. A travel agent made the booking on behalf of the AIADMK.
After two days, the resort was struggling to meet the demands created by the large group descending on them suddenly and a team was brought in by the Sasikala family to manage the cooking. After this, the charges were only for the room and staff service as food was taken care of by the party.
The source estimates the actual cost to have been around Rs 70 lakh but admits that only Rs 20 lakh was paid by the party. "The management has been told not to speak about the payment to anyone. We will pay it soon," said the source.
Damage to property
The expenses listed above don't include the damage to property. "There were broken tables, plates...the lawns were a mess. There was food spilt everywhere, even on the terrace!" a staff member said.
After the MLAs left the resort to participate in the Trust Vote, the resort closed down for two days.
"We had to shut the resort down for maintenance. We had to clean up and replace the damaged property. The staff also needed a break. They were overworked like never before," the staff member said.
How did the MLAs behave?
For the first three days, the resort was asked to switch off the CCTV, a staff member revealed.
Confirming this, an AIADMK source added, "The phones of the MLAs were taken away. There were jammers in place and they were not allowed to watch TV."
The staff member said that despite the restrictions in place, the MLAs looked relaxed and behaved in a relaxed manner, too. "The female MLAs wanted their families with them, so they were allowed to bring their children and other family members," the source said.
The rumours about "massage ladies" being brought in are untrue, the source said. "There was no special entertainment arranged for the MLAs. There was a welcome dance which is done for all guests. After this, they mainly entertained themselves by using the swimming pool and dancing to music in the conference hall."
However, some of the MLAs misbehaved with the staff, wanting things to be done that very instant and pressurizing them to meet their demands.
"I could see that the management was getting frustrated with all the mess that was happening. It was difficult for them to handle the huge crowd. But they didn't have a choice. The party took control and they were probably worried that if they objected, there would be repercussions," the AIADMK source said.
The source also said that every day, a meeting would be held for at least one hour about the political situation in the conference room.
"The Golden Bay staff was not allowed inside the room during these meetings," the source said.
Who was in charge?
The AIADMK source revealed that Ministers Velumani and Jayakumar, Sasikala's nephew, Venkatesh, and a few others took turns to manage the crowd.
"They shunted between the Village Retreat resort where 10 to 20 MLAs were staying and Golden Bay," said the source, adding that these MLAs had to be shifted there because Golden Bay had run out of space.
The Village Retreat resort owner, too, was worried about the crowd and the damage but had been instructed like the management at Golden Bay not to say anything negative about the issue to anyone.
Who all from the Sasikala family were there?
According to the AIADMK source, Sasikala's nephew, TTV Dinakaran, who took over the party leadership after the Supreme Court verdict convicted Sasikala, was present. As was Venkatesh, her other nephew, who was managing the crowd between the two resorts.
Natarajan, Sasikala's husband, never visited. Neither did her brother Dhivaharan or his son Jeyanandh.
What did Sasikala do during her stay?
The AIADMK source said, "She had no place to sleep because by the time she came, the entire resort was full. So a few ministers were sent to the Village Retreat Resort and their room was vacated. Arrangements were made for her stay."
A staff member said, "She was very casual with everyone. She went for an early morning walk for at least half an hour. And she took her makeup artist everywhere!"
Sasikala was understandably tense the night before the SC verdict and even broke down when speaking to the MLAs, the source said.
How many "security" guards did the Sasikala family bring?
The AIADMK source said, "There were almost 40 of them excluding the cooking team. There were a lot of people moving between the two resorts, so it's difficult to give exact figures."
The "security" guards intimidated some local people, demanding id cards to enter their own property.
"At this point, the management tried to intervene and say that they had no rights to block the local people but the management security was asked to stay out of this. The AIADMK ministers told the management not to interfere and that these measures were being taken to prevent media intrusions," the source said.
What did the police do?
A source from the police said that after CCTV was switched on at the resort, the management was asked to hand over footage from Day 4 onward.
"We asked the owners and staff to leave the premises, saying that we will evict the MLAs from there. But the owners refused to leave because they were afraid that there would be damage to property. After Section 144 was lifted, the police assured the management that the MLAs would soon leave. The management was receiving threatening calls from some people, asking them to file a complaint against the MLAs. They even got a bomb threat call," said the police source, adding that the DMK and the OPS camp were suspected for making these threats.
Who owns Golden Bay?
According to the staff, Golden Bay is owned by a Chennai-based family which has no political affiliations whatsoever. They don't have connections with the Sasikala family or the Sekar Reddy family as the rumours go.
"The Golden Bay property was bought by Mr Bhaktavatchalam. He's from Thanjavur and he started off with a medical shop and later got into real estate. He's no more and it's his family which is managing the resort," the source said.