The unbelievable has happened.
The seemingly inseparable Jayalalithaa-Sasikala combine is no more.
Cynics say this move by the AIADMK supremo is aimed at distancing herself from the disproportionate assets case against her close aide Sasikala Natarajan.
Others believe that Jayalalithaa does not want a repeat of charges of loot and plunder leveled against DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's second and third families.
Mystery shrouds the severe act of expulsion, whereby Sasikala and over a dozen of her relatives have been sacked from the ruling party.
The story is that several IAS officers, other bureaucrats, even some ministers and MLAs of the AIADMK make a beeline to Sasikala and her relatives and there is interference in administration. It is also said that Sasikala directs several party functionaries, especially in the southern districts, using the caste card.
The question uppermost in the minds of neutral observers is: Why has Jayalalithaa acted so late?
After all, she distanced Sasikala from the party after the 1996 poll debacle when Jayalalithaa herself said the image of an extra-constitutional authority had hurt her party badly, and that she needed to keep the doors of communication open with partymen and others on a regular basis. Sasikala had moved out of Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden residence then.
Party insiders concede that a lot of key decisions were being taken by Sasi and that since she had the eyes and ears of the Chief Minister, such power was bound to be used or misused. Having gone through the traumatic experience of being jailed in 1996 after the loss of power, observers believe that Jayalalithaa should have kept away Sasi, at least immediately after her return to power in May 2011.
There are some in the party who believe Jaya can't afford to lose Sasi, who has stood by her during every crisis - Especially since Jaya doesn't have relatives to provide her comfort at home and absorb the pressure of office.
On the other hand, there are friends and advisors like Tughlak Editor Cho S Ramaswamy and his close friend S Gurumurthy who may feel that this could be the right time for Jaya to crack the whip and ensure that the Chief Minister's residence and the party headquarters are cleaned up.
Jaya's friends feel that she should concentrate on providing a good and tough administration, prevent the recurrence of corruption led by a coterie around her, and enhance her national image so that she could be ready to take on a national role when the time comes in 2014.
That Jaya has been in two minds while dealing with Sasi is obvious. Look at her elevation to the post of general council member. Sasi continues to accompany the CM on all important missions – whether it is to functions, on outstation visits or even the election campaign.
Jaya and Sasi even traveled together to Bangalore to appear before the court regarding the Disproportionate Assets case against them.
The speed with which Jaya acted against Natarajan, husband of Sasikala, when she barred his entry into Poes Garden, is not seen in the case of Sasi. There is also the perceived pro-Thevar tilt in the administration which could hurt Jaya's image among the Dalits if not corrected early.
It is this contradiction that afflicts the AIADMK. Partymen are not sure whether they have to carry out the diktat of Sasi. They are not sure whether Jaya is aware of all the decisions passed on to them by Sasi. If they try to cross-check, they could land in trouble.
If anything, Jaya's public statement now could clear the air – if Jaya sticks to her decision for a reasonable amount of time and if Sasi no longer shares the same roof as Jaya.
If friends like Cho had their way, Jaya would have to continue the course chosen now – purge the party of vested interests and coteries and emerge as a no-nonsense leader cutting across the political, caste and social divide.