Over the past two weeks, the current AIADMK leadership—which was once servile at the feet of VK Sasikala before her incarceration four years ago—showed the first open signs that it was preparing to fight off a legacy claim.
Just a few days after unveiling the phoenix-themed memorial for J Jayalalithaa along the breezy shores of the Marina in Chennai, Edappadi K Palaniswami chose to seal it off. Right now, entry is barricaded with a sign saying it’s closed for public visits. Apparently, the government is enabling ongoing works at the monument.
Even to the half-initiated, this was clearly to stop VK Sasikala from making a dramatic appearance. Of the few remembered events in post-Jayalalithaa political history, the vow Sasikala made at the grave of her companion stands out even now. In that context, Palaniswami’s move to ward off a repeat clearly indicates the scuffle for legacy is far from over.
The second indication that Palaniswami wants no I-am-the-true-heir claims from Sasikala is the decision to unveil the Jayalalithaa memorial at her Poes Garden residence on January 28. VK Sasikala was also a resident of Veda Nilayam, Poes Garden, for several decades. In fact, just before she set off for prison in February 2017, Sasikala met supporters at the bungalow with a smile on her face, even though her eyes barely concealed the steely resolve of vengeance. It is precisely this sentiment that Palaniswami thinks he is fighting as he closes all doors for Sasikala to symbolise her claim to Jayalalithaa’s legacy.
From her side, Sasikala has done just one thing so far. She exited from confinement in a car that bore an AIADMK flag. It was enough to set the cat among the pigeons in the party’s camp. Fisheries minister D Jayakumar took exception to the display while party coordinator KP Munusamy said TTV Dhinakaran will be reinducted if he apologises. In its own way, the AIADMK is repeating what it has done on several occasions in the past: its various leaders expressing a bunch of different opinions, proving that they constitute a divergent sack of politicians clinging to a contested legacy.
Today, in Madurai, TTV Dhinakaran has clearly said VK Sasikala will embark on a crusade to redeem the AIADMK from the hands of its current operators: Edappadi Palaniswami and his coterie of Kongu belt leaders like SP Velumani and P Thangamani, and the man who revolted against her in what he called the Dharma Yudh—O Panneerselvam.
As the assembly election gets near, the AIADMK hurtles towards a mounting internal crisis. Sasikala, with little to lose and everything to gain, would attempt to inflict maximum damage to a party barely out of a CM-deputy CM faceoff. The DMK, meanwhile, is embarking on a marketing push with a granular, constituency-wise approach promoted by poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC. For the AIADMK voter looking for signs that the party is geared up for the elections, the wait could be interminable.