The popular response to Sasikala being elected the leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party, paving the way for her to be appointed the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, has been rooted in characterising her as a ‘maid’, ‘servant’, ‘household help’ and ‘aayah’. Even DMK leader MK Stalin said that people did not vote for anyone from Jayalalithaa's ‘household’. Further, the criticism is largely centered on her assumed inability to govern and, more importantly, that she has not been elected to office, ever.
Fresh from the Marina uprising which stormed the state, Chennai city is already witnessing dissent, and there is a good possibility this grows stronger.
But what exactly is the reason for our anger against her?
That she, a ‘maid’ or a 'servant', is becoming the CM?
That she is not elected?
Or that she is corrupt, and unaccountable?
The state is no doubt at a juncture where public discourse needs to play an active role in deciding the future course of its democracy, but the discourse must not be born out of blind hatred or class bias.
Let’s first understand who Sasikala is.
The most accurate, journalistic characterisation of Sasikala is perhaps that she is ‘Jayalalithaa’s aide’ – but we all know she was more than that.
Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden was the command centre for both the AIADMK and Tamil Nadu government when Jayalalithaa was in power, and Sasikala ran Veda Nilayam with the blessings of Amma.
As has been detailed several times earlier, Sasikala and her family have for long been effectively running every layer of government. They ran the state. Most, if not all, MLAs are their loyalists whom the family helped get elected.
Agreed, that Sasikala has been a backchannel operator so far and that her role was limited to protecting vested interests and not those of the state, but her image of being a novice ‘servant’ does no justice to the truth.
It would not be wrong to say that much of the derision directed at Sasikala is rooted in class bias. If she was an English-speaking, appropriate-looking, upper-class woman, we could very well be talking about how she has had other accomplishments in ‘public life’ and that it was only a matter of time before she learns governance, too.
Calling her a ‘maid’ and ‘servant’ further betray that classism.
Comments on a Change.org petition seeking dissolution of TN government.
It is crucial that the opposition against Sasikala is for the right reasons.
When Jayalalithaa became CM for the first time, she did not have any experience in governance. She was however a politician who had been Propaganda Secretary of the AIADMK and a Rajya Sabha MP.
Sasikala has no such experience, except for being a back channel operator.
She and her family have a list of cases against them, and she needs to be opposed for the corruption (both alleged and proven).
It is also true that our vote was not for Sasikala. We voted for Jayalalithaa – but whom we really voted for was an AIADMK MLA who elected Jayalalithaa as the CM.
That leader died, and now another leader has been elected. She will now have to get voted in from any one constituency within the next six months. Her anointment points to the failure of the political class, and our anger has to be directed at our elected MLAs and the opposition. Whatever has happened so far is entirely legal, and has precedence.
And if she does get elected from a constituency soon, will it suddenly be OK that she took over in such a fashion? So, do we then have enough of an understanding of what exactly our demands must be?
What we take away from this is not that we must not just show dissent, but that we need a better understanding of what we need.
Whether Sasikala will become and remain the CM of TN till the next elections depends on only two things now – the Supreme Court verdict and her election in any one constituency, within the next six months. The first one isn’t in our control; the second too might not be if she chooses to contest from an AIADMK-strong seat in the Thevar belt.
There are calls for the government to be dissolved, and the petition is getting high traction online. But this is not a simple task and is fraught with its own risks such as letting the Centre remote control the state.
What we could call for now is more accountability in the Chief Minister’s office. If she does take office and remains the CM for the next 4 years, what are the ways in which we can ensure transparency in government? How can we keep in check the influence of her family’s vested interests? Her ascent to the CM’s chair must not go down as a victory, but as the beginning of a long and arduous journey of governance amidst a tough opposition and a demanding public.
The focus therefore must be on monitoring her governance and the role her family plays in it. The risk with an impulsive outburst is that it will recede as fast as it appeared – and then, it will be business as usual for the Mannargudi clan.
So, don’t hate Sasikala, hold her accountable.