Her decision to withdraw from politics could be read as waiting for the right time to strike post elections.

Sasikala praying to a picture of J Jayalalithaa
news 2021 TAMIL NADU ASSEMBLY ELECTION Friday, March 05, 2021 - 19:32

Having spent considerable resources on the optics to demonstrate that she is a political force, VK Sasikala, close aide of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, has decided to withdraw from active politics.

Given that politicians don’t abandon their ambitions easily, the sudden decision may be a circumspect, short-term one, calibrated to fit a post election strategy.

For a few days, after her much-hyped road trip from Bengaluru to Chennai, Sasikala appealed for unity in the AIADMK and pleaded for a return to the party.

However, the party leadership under Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, which expelled her in 2017, refused to budge. Her entry into the party would have automatically triggered a challenge to the status quo and it would have been difficult to contain her faction.

EPS has used every weapon in his arsenal to keep Sasikala away and there are serious allegations that Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate cases were used to keep Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran under check, at least till the elections.   

A senior AIADMK leader told this writer on condition of anonymity that, “It was a single point agenda for EPS to keep her at bay and he was willing to give the BJP anything in return for support to keep her at bay.”   

While this reality left her without much of an option, it may not be the only reason behind her decision to not throw in a challenge. In fact, her decision may be based on the assessment that the opposition DMK alliance has a decisive edge in the coming polls, and it’s a strategic calculation to wait for a post poll battle.

Firstly, given that she cannot contest an election for the next six years there was only a limited role she could play at the grassroots level. Next, fielding rebel candidates against the ones contesting under the two leaves symbol in many constituencies is a formidable challenge and could have exposed her faction’s lack of grassroots strengths. 

Also, she risks being blamed for an AIADMK defeat by the present leadership and her current stand insulates her from that. With her withdrawal from politics, the entire responsibility for the party’s performance falls on the Chief Minister and it is a make-or-break election for him.

With her decision to withdraw it will be interesting to see if members from her faction join the AIADMK or if there is an alliance between her nephew’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and the AIADMK.

TNM debate on Sasikala's sudden exit from politics: 

Either way, there are Sasikala loyalists in the AIADMK who are likely to work against the Chief Minister and his allies at the grassroots, at least in select constituencies. So, fault lines remain strong within the party and it may not be easy to navigate it by the party leadership. 

What the Sasikala faction will work towards is a defeated AIADMK, not a decimated one.

For its part, the BJP’s focus is to squeeze out as many seats as possible from the AIADMK leadership and ensure that there is a transfer of votes at the base level. In the event of the AIADMK losing power, the national party will not be concerned with a faction fight within its Dravidian ally and may be willing to do business with whoever takes charge.

Ultimately, it’s an all-or-nothing battle for Edappadi Palaniswamy and Sasikala. If he wins the CM post, he will keep it all, and Sasikala will stay retired. But if he loses, Sasikala and her faction will strike to take control, and she could always claim to be back from retirement to ‘save the party’!

TM Veeraraghav is an independent journalist. He has worked as a TV journalist for many years, primarily covering the corridors of power in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu.



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