Finishing touches are being given in a hurry to a phoenix-shaped structure next to the MGR memorial on Marina beach in Chennai to commemorate former Chief Minister J Jayalalitha.
Intended to be inaugurated on 24 February, her birth anniversary, it was suddenly advanced to 27 January, the day her alter ego and de facto number two in the AIADMK, VK Sasikala, will walk free from the central jail in Bengaluru after serving a four-year prison term in a disproportionate assets case.
She still commands awe, goodwill and support of the majority of elected representatives and workers of the AIADMK which the present leaders, including Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, sorely lack.
Her supporters had planned a mammoth rally stretching from Bengaluru to Chennai, a distance of 350 km, in a motorcade of thousands of cars and vans. Unnerved by such a spectacle taking place, Palaniswamy advanced the inauguration of the Jayalalitha memorial to 27 January with a view to diverting at least a part of the crowd from the Sasikala rally to the Marina beach.
Amidst these developments, Sasikala was admitted to hospital in Bengaluru on Wednesday owing to slight fever and breathlessness, shifted to another hospital on Thursday and yet another hospital on Friday. Her initial Covid-19 test showed negative, a repeat test showed “features suggestive of severe respiratory infection,” and she was shifted to the Covid-19 block in the hospital. None of her close relatives was allowed to see her.
Their plea to shift her to Manipal Hospitals was turned down. After the death of Jayalalitha in December 2016, the men who are in power now went on bended knees to Sasikala, pleading with her to take over as Chief Minister and general secretary of the AIADMK.
The general council of the AIADMK unanimously elected her as general secretary and the Legislature Party elected her leader.
The Supreme Court order confirming her conviction and sentence in the wealth case put paid to her taking over as Chief Minister. Before going to Benguluru to serve her jail term, she handpicked Palaniswamy for the CM’s post. Palaniswamy now says Sasikala’s readmission to AIADMK “will not happen 100 per cent” and that there was no difference of opinion within the party.
At a general council meeting convened by Palaniswamy in September 2017, a resolution cancelling Sasikala’s election as general secretary was passed without following the procedures enshrined in the party constitution and her name was dropped from the membership roll. Legally she continues to be the general secretary.
The BJP had planned to capture power in Tamil Nadu by taking a piggy-back ride on the AIADMK for which the ruling party must remain united. It is unlikely Sasikala will be able to return to Chennai on 27 January as planned.