Sasikala will take over as General Secretary, but there could be some drama

AIADMK General Council Will Sasikala do a Sonia Gandhi
news Politics Monday, December 26, 2016 - 14:21

AIADMK’s last general council and executive committee meeting made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Held on New Year’s Eve in 2015, the ruling party went on a publicity blitzkrieg in Chennai, with giant cut-outs of then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa put up every few metres from Poes Garden to Thiruvanmiyur, where the meeting was held. AIADMK’s over-the-top celebration was considered offensive and inappropriate coming as it did just weeks after the floods wreaked havoc in the city, destroying homes and rendering thousands homeless.   

In contrast, the AIADMK’s general council and executive committee meeting on December 29 is expected to be a low-key affair, following the demise of party supremo Jayalalithaa. As 2016 draws to a close, all eyes will, however, be on the party meeting as it is set to elect Sasikala Natarajan as the AIADMK leader.

The build-up to the general council meeting has been on expected lines – the chorus of voices pleading with her to take over Jayalalithaa’s mantle, together with the visual cues of the same, dramatic posters proclaiming her as the next ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ and photographs of scores of cadres and leaders begging her to lead the AIADMK. Despite the theatrics, Sasikala has remained silent on whether she will indeed be Jayalalithaa’s successor, some have even interpreted her silence as reluctance.

This reluctance has given way to media reports that the lower rungs of the party disapprove of her and that Sasikala may be reluctant to take over as General Secretary immediately.

So, will Sasikala be pronounced as party general secretary? What can we expect from AIADMK’s general council meeting at Srivaru Kalyana Mandapam in Vanagaram?  

Sources in the AIADMK tell TNM that despite Sasikala’s reluctance or hesitation, she will, be made the head of the party on December 29. "The party cannot be left rudderless. There is really no option but to choose the next leader. So, I don't think the decision would be delayed," said a leader.

TNM has learnt that a speech is being prepared for Sasikala. Besides staking claim to Jayalalithaa’s legacy and reminiscing about her close friend, there is some speculation that Sasikala may in fact do a Sonia Gandhi. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi had declared herself out of the running for the Prime Minister’s post.

An AIADMK party leader says that in Sasikala’s case, any signs of reluctance will be to test the waters. He said, "There is a sense of disapproval among cadres and she knows it. So maybe she will first be reluctant and convey that to leaders and cadre. But I don't think it will be a long-drawn process, it would be posturing and the general council will surely extend its support to her."

The buzz within party circles is that AIADMK may honour Jayalalithaa by making her the “permanent general secretary”. The party incidentally, doesn’t have a ‘president’ post, stemming from the logic that only Periyar, the leader of the Dravidian movement, would qualify. "The party may decide to make Chinnamma the General Secretary or give her some other designation like Joint General Secretary. But no matter what the terminology is, she would be chosen to head the party," said another leader.  

Although questions have been raised on why Sasikala should lead the party when Jayalalithaa had never given her an MLA seat, AIADMK leaders have brushed them aside, expressing confidence and trust in ‘Chinnamma’. In an interview to Puthiya Thalaimurai’s Karthigaichelvan S, senior party leader and former minister KA Sengottaiyan drew parallels with the succession in the Congress following the assassination of then Prime Minister and Congress chief Indira Gandhi in 1984. “Rajiv Gandhi was a pilot when Indira Gandhi died. He was made the chief. Nobody asked questions then.”

And it appears no one will ask questions at AIADMK’s general council either. With 2770 members, the meeting will be fairly straightforward – one person will propose Sasikala Natarajan’s name as the next party chief, with another seconding the proposal. The rest of the general council will clap in unison, paving the way for Sasikala to take over as Jayalalithaa’s successor.