Chennai: VK Sasikala, the ousted former chief of Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK – who was released from a Bengaluru jail in January and was widely expected to challenge for control of the party, and the Chief Minister’s post, in next month’s election – will “stay away from politics and public life”.
In a letter released Wednesday night Sasikala – a confidante of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa – wrote: “I have never been after power or position even when Jaya was alive. Won’t do that after she is dead. I am staying away from politics to ensure continuation of AIADMK’s ‘golden rule’ in Tamil Nadu.”
“I will pray to God and my sister (Jayalalithaa) for AIADMK’s victory (and) urge supporters of AIADMK to work together and defeat the DMK (the primary opposition). I urge the party cadre to work to keep her legacy going,” she added.
Hours earlier, the BJP, which said it was a part of the “AIADMK-led alliance”, said the AIADMK would decide on her return. The ruling party had, so far, ruled out allowing either Sasikala or her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran and his Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) into the fold.
Last week she said, “as our amma (Jayalalithaa) wished“, AIADMK and AMMK should contest the election together.
Politically, Sasikala’s call could help the AIADMK retain the support of the Thevar community, which she is from, and which is a key vote bank for the party.
However, scuttling such a possibility TTV Dhinakaran said: “We will contest polls and announce our alliance and candidates soon.”
To a specific question – if the BJP was behind her decision – he said: “Till yesterday you were asking if BJP was working for a patch-up. Now you’re asking if they are behind her quitting. Who would she blame?”
Sasikala cannot contest polls for six years since she was convicted for corruption, but many see her letter as part of a larger strategy.
With no major crossover from the ruling AIADMK after her return, if the party loses in the election, it strengthens her case and paves the way for the rank and file to look to her to lead .
Last month Sasikala, 66, fresh from jail and having recovered from a coronavirus infection, took the first step towards reclaiming her once-dominant position.
Sasikala had stepped in as party chief after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, and was set to take her post when she was handed a four-year jail term for corruption.
Before she left for jail she handpicked current Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, or EPS, to become Chief Minister. He had unseated current Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, or OPS, after he rebelled against Ms Sasikala’s claim, to take over.
However, in her absence, the two patched up and had her removed from the post and the party.
At the height of her power, VK Sasikala was a hugely influential force within the AIADMK, and was widely expected to be a key player in this election.
Tamil Nadu votes for a new government in a single phase on April 6, with results due May 2.