As the dust settles around the death of Jayalalithaa, the focus is now slowly shifting to the political events of December 5 and 6, 2016, and how her closest aide, Sasikala, acted during the late Chief Minister's illness and in the immediate aftermath of her death.
Some questions are in the air: What was the need to hold a swearing-in ceremony in the middle of the night? And why is Sasikala back with her family, out in the open?
Jayalalithaa's death was a shocking development, even though she was admitted in the hospital for nearly 75 days. The wave of sadness and disbelief that it triggered, among her followers and her detractors, is testimony to that. But has the secrecy which shrouded her illness acted as a cloak for people with vested interests? Has it enabled the Sasikala family to bulldoze their way through the party and the Tamil Nadu government?
What has raised immediate suspicion was perhaps the quickest transition of power India has seen following the death of a sitting Chief Minister. Jayalalithaa, according to the official version, died at 11.30 pm on Monday. This was announced publicly a little after midnight. By 1.30 am on Tuesday, O Panneerselvam had taken oath as the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu at the Raj Bhavan.
One of India’s most popular, powerful and respected politicians had just died. Millions in Tamil Nadu were shocked. What was the tearing hurry to get OPS elected as the chairman of the legislature party, and for him to be sworn in as the Chief Minister?
TNM has been closely following the political events of the two days. Even before Jayalalithaa's death was announced, it emerged that Sasikala's youngest brother Dhivaharan, a person based out of Mannargudi, was meeting MLAs, seeking their support and holding them together.
It is true that the political crisis triggered by Jayalalithaa’s death needed to be contained. However, it's not unreasonable to ask if the events were more about saving the AIADMK and the government, or keeping intact the Sasikala family’s hold on the party and the government machinery.
Sasikala’s estranged husband M Natarajan, whom Jayalalithaa had despised, is back. Posters announcing the ‘return of the golden man who will save Tamil Nadu’ were seen in parts of Chennai.
And that brings us to the next question: Why is the Sasikala family back, all out in the open?
In December 2011, Sasikala was shunted out of Poes Garden by Jayalalithaa for keeping in touch with her family members. Jayalalithaa believed that they were working against her.
Here is what Sasikala promised Jayalalithaa then –
"Only after coming out of Poes Garden, I became aware of the machinations of my relatives who have misused my proximity and brought disrepute to akka and the party. I have no role whatsoever in that. Hereafter, any relative, whosoever it might be, who had conspired against akka, will remain a persona non-grata for me as well.”
All the ‘persona non-grata’ are now back, and were all around Jayalalithaa during her final journey.
M Natarajan, Sasikala’s husband, had been kept away from the party and the government for a long time, although he had been known to peddle some influence.
Now he is back, talking about the future course of AIADMK, the party in power in Tamil Nadu. He was seen conversing with Venkaiah Naidu and even Prime Minister Modi at Rajaji Hall during the public homage to Jayalalithaa.
In an interview to News18 Tamil, he talked about how ‘we’ will take forward the legacy of MGR and Jayalalithaa. And notice the man standing right next to him – BJP’s Aseervatham Achary.
Aseervatham Achary and M Natarajan
Remember Dhivaharan’s arrest in 2012? He was sent to the central prison. On Tuesday, he was standing right beside Sasikala when she met Modi.
As TNM had earlier pointed out, most of Sasikala’s family, including those who were in the bad books of Jayalalithaa, were all around her body.
It was only because Sasikala promised to stay away from the controversial members of her family that she was allowed back into the party. Even if there had been some reconciliation since, it is highly likely that it was due to political compulsions. Would Jayalalithaa have approved of the presence of these men during her final journey?
It would be instructive to look at the Sasikala family tree and how almost every member of her extended family has become a significant operative in the network.
The events of the past couple of days were perhaps Sasikala’s final deceit of Jayalalithaa.
The Sasikala family was not elected. They do not even hold senior party posts with accountability. They do not operate with any transparency. And yet, they are the ones who are now seemingly in-charge of the state of Tamil Nadu, and ostensibly its political future.
Ahead of the Tamil Nadu polls earlier this year, TNM had traced how far reaching the power and business interests of the Mannargudi family were.
In a democracy, it is our responsibility to raise questions when a crisis is staring at our face. It is time now for the cadre of AIADMK and people of Tamil Nadu to ask some tough questions of the Sasikala family.