Tamil Nadu polls: Little heard, hardly seen, but Sasikala and kin are a constant presence in this town

              Sasikala is said to have fully resumed her role as her friend’s gatekeeper and counsel in a party whose centralised functioning is so opaque that even the seniormost ministers are clueless about important matters.. S Kamraj’s campaign office. The yellow flag is a Thevar flag

This town on the banks of the river Pamini, a sub-tributary of the Cauvery, in Tamil Nadu is famous for two things. One is the 1,000-year-old Chola-era Rajagopalaswamy temple whose Vishnu deity draws devotees from across India. The other is a woman who is whispered about as a power centre in Tamil Nadu whenever the AIADMK has ruled the state in the last 25 years.

Sasikala Natarajan, described variously as “aide”, “confidante”, “friend” of AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa, does not live in this rustic place any more. Her home is the Poes Garden residence of the Chief Minister in Chennai.

Read MoreElections 2016: 71 per cent voting in Kerala, 81.94 in Puducherry, 69.19 in Tamil NaduTamil Nadu Assembly elections: CM Jayalalithaa asks voters to step out, Thanjavur polls deferred after seizure of cashAnti-nuke protester is the face of Tamil Nadu’s first green partyNo multi-cornered contests in Tamil Nadu: It’s AIADMK vs DMKTamil Nadu elections: Jayalalithaa hopes for rich catch in welfare net for poor

People say she visits only during important family functions, like her mother’s death anniversary, and no one remembers seeing her in public here. The only member of Sasikala’s family who lives in Mannargudi is her brother V Dhivaharan, whose home in a sprawling compound is hidden behind rows of fruit-bearing mango trees. A guard declares there is no one at home, and dogs come barking to the gate. Nor is Dhivaharan to be found at the Sengamalarthayyar Educational Trust College for Women that he owns, says the guard there.

“Very disciplined, good college. Better than Government Arts College. All the people are preferring STET only,” says a shop owner in Mannargudi.

Dhivaharan has kept a low profile since December 2011. That was when Jayalalithaa carried out an unexpected and swift purge against Sasikala and a dozen of her family members, who were alleged to have amassed wealth and properties alongside political influence within the AIADMK.

As surprising as Sasikala’s sudden expulsion was her return to Poes Garden some three months later, after a public apology in which she distanced herself from her family members who, she claimed, had “misused” her proximity to Jayalalithaa, and swore she could never think of betraying her “akka”. Since then most of her family members have remained persona non grata in the Jayalalithaa household.

Sasikala is said to have fully resumed her role as her friend’s gatekeeper and counsel in a party whose centralised functioning is so opaque that even the seniormost ministers are clueless about important matters. “Sasikala is the person who handles all matters related to Jayalalithaa’s case in Supreme Court. No one in the party knows anything about it,” says a long-time AIADMK watcher in Chennai.

The Supreme Court has set June 1, two weeks after the declaration of the Assembly election results, as the deadline for the Karnataka government to finish arguments in its appeal against the Karnataka High Court order setting aside a Bangalore special court’s conviction of Jayalalithaa in a disproportionate assets case.

Just as Jayalalithaa is inaccessible, so is Sasikala. She gives no interviews, and her last public statement was her 2012 apology. In contrast to Jayalalithaa’s first term as chief minister between 1991 and ’96, she has rarely appeared by her side in public in the last few years.

Although the family remains out of view, its business interests have, however, grown. Last October, a company in which two members of Sasikala’s extended family are directors bought 11 cinemas in Chennai. Another Sasikala relative runs Jaya TV.

In this town, the AIADMK candidate in the May 16 election is S Kamaraj, a wealthy contractor and a former party district secretary. He was not in the first list of candidates, triggering speculation that he was chosen later because of his closeness to “the family”. But here is the paradox. In a place synonymous with the “Sasikala family”, AIADMK did not win in Mannargudi in 2011.

Local boy T R B Raja of DMK, the sitting MLA and son of former Union minister T R Baalu, is standing for re-election. “When you talk about AIADMK, you have to talk about Mannargudi. But for all that, what has the Sasikala family done for this place,” he asks, as he reels off the DMK’s contributions — a fertiliser factory, a modern rice mill, Government Arts College, and reopening of the railway station after 40 years, and several train connections, which he credits to his father during his time as the Union minister.

“Sasikala may be strong in Poes Garden,” says Raja, 41, “but she is not strong here.”

WATCH INDIAN EXPRESS VIDEOS HERE

Comments

  • Related News
  • Congress nominates AK Antony for Rajya Sabha election from Kerala.

    Congress state president, V M Sudheeran, on Saturday said the party has decided to field Antony as the candidate for RS elections.. A K Antony

    Former Defence Minister A K Antony will be the Congress candidate f...

    India 2016-03-05 11:30:49

    Situation did go out of control govt takes collective responsibility for any lapse: Captain Abhimanyu.

    During the agitation, properties, establishments and a house owned by Abhimanyu’s family were also torched by protesters in Rohtak. . Haryana Finance Minister Captain Abhimanyu at The Indian Express office in...

    India 2016-03-05 10:10:50

    Govt failed to anticipate scale of stir, says Haryana minister on Jat quota agitation.

    He added that the government has taken “collective responsibility” for the absence of an immediate administrative response to prevent the situation from getting out of control.. Haryana Finance Minister...

    India 2016-03-05 04:21:11

    Environment agencies cavalier, force courts to intervene: CJI.

    CJI Thakur said the Supreme Court would have had little role to play had the government agencies been doing their job properly.. Chief Justice T S Thakur

    WITH PRIME Minister Narendra Modi and Environment Minist...

    India 2016-03-05 04:17:44

    Assam board exam answer-sheets gutted in fire.

    Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Vasant Vishal Solanki said preliminary inquiries did not show any apparent sign of accidental fire occurring due to an electricity short circuit. .

    The Assam government Friday ordered...

    India 2016-03-05 04:13:41

    Sukma: 3 CRPF men killed in encounter with Maoists.

    Officials said while two commandos, identified as constables Linju N and Fateh Singh had succumbed to their bullet injuries on Thursday, their collegaue Lakshman Singh died on Friday..

    Three CRPF personnel have...

    India 2016-03-05 04:10:33

    Gujarat Quota stir: Man takes own life to make govt wiser.

    Upleta town also observed a bandh while its major villages like Bhayavadar and Moti Paneli remained shut as well..

    Upleta and Dhoraji towns of Rajkot remained shut on Friday to mourn death of a youth who had al...

    India 2016-03-05 04:00:30

    Asaram case: SC declines to order CBI probe into missing witnesses.

    A bench of justices Anil R Dave and Adarsh Goel said it could be raised before the Allahabad High Court as complaints on it have been lodged in Uttar Pradesh. . Asaram Bapu

    The Supreme Court Friday declined to ...

    India 2016-03-05 03:57:26

    Several complaints later, HRD Ministry moves to sack Pondicherry varsity V-C.

    Sources said the HRD Ministry has decided to process Krishnamurthy’s case as it has given her enough opportunity to present her side of the case.. Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani.

    Emboldened by the Presid...

    India 2016-03-05 03:53:23

    Old meets new in riot shadow: pro-minority seen as anti-national.

    Today it’s India vs Pak within country, not just on borders, says BJP MLA.. At a refugee camp in Muzaffarnagar. Express archive

    In Muzaffarnagar, BJP-ABVP have taken out no marches on the JNU issue so far...

    India 2016-03-05 03:47:43

     .

    When I leave office, I will speak of it more freely: Arvind Subramanian. Gives examples from history

    How a country deals with its social divisions plays a major role in the trajectory of its economic developmen...

    India 2016-03-05 03:41:56

    Inquiry clears her but Leftist Allahabad University student head faces exit.

    While the report concludes that Singh’s seat should have gone to a reserved candidate, it makes clear that the “mistake” was committed by university staff involved in the selection process.. The i...

    India 2016-03-05 02:50:19

    The more Rohiths you kill, more will emerge from every house: Kanhaiya Kumar.

    Kanhaiya Kumar: "I am not a politician, I am a student. I have no intention of joining mainstream politics or contesting any election." . JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar with the union Vice President Shehla Rashid a...

    India 2016-03-05 02:30:35

    Indian nun among 16 killed by gunmen in Yemen; victims handcuffed, shot in the head.

    External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj urges Indians in ‘such danger zones’ to return home . Security forces at the retirement home in Aden, Friday. (AP Photo)

    An Indian nun was among 16 peopl...

    India 2016-03-05 02:24:43

    Sexual harassment case: Delhi HC dismisses plea to cancel R K Pachauris bail.

    The court said that "very cogent and overwhelming circumstances" were necessary for an order of cancellation of bail which has already been granted.. The court said while granting relief to R K Pachauri, the trial ...

    India 2016-03-05 02:08:04

    MP: House panel to help students deal with exam stress.

    Stressing on the need of moral education, yoga and meditation, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan said sports period will be made compulsory in schools..

    Madhya Pradesh Assembly Friday unanimously decided to form a House...

    India 2016-03-05 01:54:46

    Bihar: Oppn attacks Nitish govt as Tej Pratap skips House session again.

    When JD(U)’s Phulwari Sharif MLA Shyam Rajak asked a question as to why the sex ratio in Bihar was increasing, rural development minister Shravan Kumar stood up to answer. .

    The Opposition BJP Friday targ...

    India 2016-03-05 01:52:48

    After PA Sangmas death, 7-day mourning in Meghalaya.

    In Shillong, where the Meghalaya assembly’s budget session had just begun, Speaker Abu Taher Mondal broke the news after Governor’s address and adjourned the House for the day..

    The demise of Meghal...

    India 2016-03-05 01:46:04

    Sumitra Mahajan recalls PA Sangma: He would try wit, humour and silence, whichever way it worked.

    After he ceased being the Speaker, Sangmaji never used his erstwhile position to seek time in the House for speaking.. PM Narendra Modi, Sumitra Mahajan pays last respects to former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma at ...

    India 2016-03-05 01:40:41

    PA Sangma: Remembered, an important voice of the Northeast.

    Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders today condoled the death of former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma.. Former Lok Sabha speaker P. A. Sangma

    Terming his contribution in the deve...

    India 2016-03-05 01:23:38