In the funeral procession of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, several political leaders along with her followers came and paid obeisance. But throughout her last journey, one image was constant. She was Sasikala Natarajan. Clad in a dark green saree, she was seen right next to the late CM’s mortal remains for the entire duration when Jayalalithaa’s last journey could be seen.
Known as one of the closest aides of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala was with her for all the 74 days that she was admitted at the Apollo hospital. She does not hold any party position, yet her closeness with the AIADMK chief gave her an enviable power.
But how close was she? A 2012 report published in the Tehelka magazine had alleged that Jayalalithaa was slow poisoned. It suggested that she was given sedatives and chemical substances with small amounts of poison. The plot was allegedly made by Sasikala and was executed by a nurse appointed by her. The report states that Jayalalithaa got to know about this plan when she sought an independent medical opninion on her worsening health. It was then revealed that she was being administered poison in small quantity.
Power tussle: The same Tehelka report also alleges how Sasikala tried to make her position stronger when Jayalalithaa was travelling to Karnataka during the hearing of the disproportionate assets case against her. An unfavourable judgement would have forced the AIADMK chief to hand over her crown to someone “she could trust”.
The alleged conspiracy by her close aide came to light when Chennai monorail project was to be comissioned. While Jaya wanted to give the contract to a Singapore company, the final file that reached her was of a Malaysian company. When she questioned how that was done, it was revealed that her signatures were forged. However, Sasikala denied her role in the case when she was confronted by Jayalalithaa.
Signatures on blank papers: On the day when Jayalalithaa suffered the cardiac arrest which dashed all hopes of her survival, a “midnight coup” was brought into action. A report in NDTV claimed that Natarajan allegedly asked all party ministers to sign three blank A-4 pages. There was no information given to them over how those papers would be used but due to her promiximity with Jayalalithaa, no questions were asked.
Jayalalithaa’s successor: The AIADMK chief is no more. Her confidante O Panneerselvam is the new Chief Minister. But Jaya’s residence is still the power centre of the state politics. Speculations are rife over whether the incumbent resident of the house, Sasikala, might take over the post of general secretary which has fell vacant in the wake of the Jayalalithaa’s demise.
The secrecy around Jayalalithaa’s health: During the 74 days that she was admitted in the hospital, there was no clear information coming out about her health. In a letter addressed to PM Narendra Modi, popular actor Gautami Tadimalla has raised questions about the secrecy that was maintained and the “blanketing of information”. Nobody, not even her niece, were allowed to visit her in the hospital.
“Why this secrecy and isolation of a beloved public leader and the head of the Tamil Nadu government? What/whose authority restricted access to the late Chief Minister? Who were the concerned persons who were making the decisions about Selvi Dr. J Jayalalithaa ji’s treatment and care when her health was apparently in such a delicate state,” Gautami asks in her letter. She is not the only one asking that question, these questions are in the minds of several of those who loved and cared for her.
With Jayalalithaa’s death, the AIADMK stares at a blank. Her funeral procession brought back the memories of her mentor MGR’s death. She closely latched on to him even though every attempt was made to pull her down from his gun carriage. During Jayalalithaa’s final journey, it was Sasikala who took that spot. Will this be an indication that after Sasikala will now take over the reigns of the party? Questions are plenty, answers none.