Party comes first for many AIADMK cadres as support for Sasikala grows

Posters outside Jayalalithaa’s residence proclaim “Chinnamma” as the revolutionary leader.
Party comes first for many AIADMK cadres as support for Sasikala grows
Party comes first for many AIADMK cadres as support for Sasikala grows
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Even as the AIADMK said that it was clear that former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalithaa's close aide Sasikala would be the next party general secretary, the scene at Poes Garden -- the residence of the late CM, reflects a similar mood.

The road leading up to the residence is cordoned off by the police, with AIADMK cadres and media persons bustling about.

On both sides of the road, walls are adorned with posters of “Amma”, as Jayalalithaa was commonly known, but with an addition.

Photos of “Chinnamma”, the name that party leaders have adopted for Sasikala, have joined the posters.

While some posters show Sasikala in the backdrop or on equal footing with Jayalalithaa, other posters show “Amma” showering flowers on “Chinnamma”. One poster screams, “Golden star, Dharma goddess, Annapoorani Jayalalithaa. The one who stayed with her, mixed with her life and her consciousness, revolutionary daughter Chinnamma,” while another is subtle, proclaiming, “Amma, Chinnamma, leader of the revolution.”  

(The poster says, "Chinnamma who has the people's CM Amma's blessings, the revolutionary leader of party cadre, come and accept the leadership!")

On Thursday, the tenth day after Jayalalithaa’s death, a religious ceremony was being held for the former Tamil Nadu CM. Access, however, was blocked to party cadre and the waiting media, with the exception of Jaya TV.  

But just as the crowds thronged to see Jayalalithaa when she was alive, a band of Sasikala loyalists were gathering at Poes Garden.

"I came to get a glimpse of Chinnamma, but they (police) are not letting me in. They are asking me for a reason. Do I need a reason to see the future of my beloved party?" Pathimuthu, who has travelled from Kumbakonam asks.

"This is the third time I'm trying to visit since Amma's death," she adds.

When asked about the future of the party, she says, "AIADMK will always be strong. We will always support the party. Even Chinnamma has my support. If Amma had accepted her, why can't we?"

While the transition from Jayalalithaa to Sasikala may have been natural for many in AIADMK, for some party leaders, acceptance has been gradual. Speaking to TNM on the condition of anonymity, one AIADMK member had initially expressed displeasure at the idea of Sasikala becoming the party leader. “How can we accept her?” he asked soon after Jayalalithaa’s death.  But like most senior party leaders including Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Thambidurai, he too has now voiced support for “Chinnamma”, albeit grudgingly.

Speaking to reporters outside the MGR memorial, where Jayalalithaa was laid to rest, party spokesperson C Ponnaiyan on Thursday said, “It is the desire of the entire party that Chinnamma should become the General Secretary.”

Ponnaiyan also said that the general council and the executive council is expected to meet soon to decide the party’s next leader. 

Read - It's decided, Sasikala will be next general secretary: AIADMK

Meanwhile, cars with tinted windows and miniature party flags hoisted in front, continued to zoom in and out of the lane leading to Jayalalithaa's house.

As party cadres gathered awaiting for any news from inside, many voiced similar opinions.

"When the DMK party is run by one family, whether it is Stalin, Alagiri or Kanimozhi, nobody will say anything, but when Sasikala, who Amma considered as her family is being appointed, suddenly everyone raises a hue and cry," says Muniyandi, a party cadre.

(Jayalalithaa is shown showering flowers on Sasikala in this poster)

Less than two kilometres away, the AIADMK headquarters in Royapettah, wears a deserted look.

While the road leading to the office continues to be filled with the very same posters of Sasikala and Jayalalithaa, none of the photos have made their way into the compound of the party office - yet.

"It has been a very difficult time for us. We have been crying day and night ever since Amma left us and went," a watchman stationed at the entrance says.

On the opposite side of the road, there are a few shops, which sell AIADMK merchandise along with photos of party founder MGR and Jayalalithaa.

The shopkeepers here too, seem accepting of Jayalalithaa's heir apparent.

"We will definitely accept her (Sasikala) if the party accepts her. There is no doubt about it. We are even willing to put her photos for sale if that happens. It's after all, our loyalty to the party that matters," says Jaya Marimuthu, one of the shop owners.

Durairaj, whose shop is also filled with pictures and portraits of Jayalalithaa and MGR, says, "The same thing had happened when MGR had passed away. Everyone was saying vile things about our Amma. Still, she was a fighter and she got the support of the party. Similarly, I believe that Chinnamma will also win."

"Either way, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is we take the vision for Amma's Tamil Nadu forward irrespective of who takes charge of the party. We owe her that much, for all that she has done for us," he adds.

However, not everyone agrees with the party's stand.

"They're all businessman. They will change their opinion according to the changing times," says Yayumalai, another shop owner, pointing at the other shops.

"I'm a true loyalist. Amma and MGR are my only Gods. After this, there is no one for me. She (Sasikala) does not have the support like Amma did, neither is she looking for the interest of the people," he adds.

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