Tamil Nadu will soon have its third woman Chief Minister - perhaps as soon as Tuesday, if speculation is to be believed.
And when VK Sasikala is sworn in as CM, she will also put Tamil Nadu in the record books – as the only state to have had three women Chief Ministers.
Until that point, Tamil Nadu shares the top spot with Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, both of which have had two women at the helm. Sucheta Kriplani and Mayawati have been Chief Ministers of UP, while Sushma Swaraj and Sheila Dikshit have ruled in Delhi.
When she is sworn in, Sasikala will follow in the line of MGR’s wife Janaki, and his political protégé, Jayalalithaa. Of course, while both women have earned the distinctive title, there is a world of difference between their relative successes in the CM’s seat.
Just hours after MGR’s death, Janaki, with the help of other senior leaders, sought to sideline Jayalalithaa from the party, and declare herself MGR’s political heir. With the party thus split into two factions, Janaki claimed the larger faction and was sworn in as Chief Minister.
However, she had one of the shortest terms as CM in the country, barely lasting 22 days in the post, before the state came under President’s Rule. By the next election, Janaki’s faction was reduced to a miserable two seats, and she soon retired permanently from politics.
Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, went from that difficult beginning to win the Chief Minister’s post first in 1991, followed by five more victories, to become the longest-serving CM in the state. She even broke a 27-year-jinx in 2016, when she became the first Chief Minister in nearly three decades to win two successive terms in the post.
Jayalalithaa’s political legacy in Tamil Nadu is as overwhelming as Janaki’s is insignificant. Groomed by MGR and gaining her foothold through him, Jayalalithaa remained politically relevant thanks to her tenacity and her ability to thrive in times of adversity. Fighting repeated political losses and legal setbacks, Jayalalithaa never let the DMK script her end, despite its valiant attempts to do so.
Her political astuteness led to astonishing combinations of ruthless expedience and popular generosity. On the one hand, she crushed her political rivals without mercy, but on the other, she slogged day and night to win over and retain the affections of the masses.
The culture of incessant freebies she helped initiate is widely known and thoroughly derided. But equally importantly, Tamil Nadu has some of the lowest infant and mortality rates, rates of crimes against women and children, and highest rates of industrial employment in the country. And it stands not too far behind the leaders in a range of other indicators as well.
In the way she has stage-managed the succession drama to the last detail, Sasikala has shown that she can handle inner-party dynamics as well as Jayalalithaa. But just as troubling for her is the rumbling discontent among AIADMK cadres and the general support base of the party. And as Janaki found out to her cost, turning against the popular sentiment could easily prove too costly a mistake.
As Sasikala takes her final steps to the CM’s post, it remains to be seen where she will stand vis-a-vis the performance of her two predecessors.