The rise of Sasikala and the Mannargudi cartel

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 14, 2016 20:06 hrs
SC declines to stay trial against Jayalalithaa

It has been just over five days since the death of the hugely popular Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. But on Sunday morning, people in Tamil Nadu woke up to advertisements in newspapers promoting trusted adviser Sasikala Natarajan, or Chinamma as she is popularly called, to take on the mantle of leadership of the AIADMK party.

The party’s channel, Jaya TV, played visuals of the various AIADMK leaders prostrating before Chinamma and later at Poes garden, pleading with her to lead the party as the rightful successor.

AIADMK MLA and senior leader Sengottaiyan, in an interview to Puthiya Thalaimurai, confirmed that senior leaders including speaker Madhusudhanan, Gokula Indra, Valarmathi, Nagarajan as well as other district office bearers, MLAs and MPs, urged Sasikala to take up the now vacant post of General Secretary and lead the party.

Sengottaiyan said that all senior leaders as well as ordinary members were unanimous in this decision as they felt she is the only credible and worthy successor, having spent many years with Jayalalithaa. Just a day after the death of Jayalalithaa, the focus began shifting to Sasikala and her family owing to their conspicuous and prominent presence at the Rajaji Hall, receiving political leaders and accepting condolences. Sasikala, hailing from Mannargudi from Tanjavur, was living with Jayalalithaa in Poes Garden since 1991. With no ties to her own biological family, Jayalalithaa began to accept Sasikala as her sister and relied heavily on her support and counsel. However, this did not come without political costs.

According to this article in NDTV 

Members of the family of Sasikala Natarajan were lodged in her Poes Garden residence in Chennai, leading to allegations that the Sasikala family was acting as an extra-constitutional authority, taking key decisions and using their proximity to the Chief Minister to build a vast business empire. When the DMK came to power in 1996, it brought a number of cases against Jayalalithaa, mostly pertaining to allegations of corruption in her joint business dealings with Sasikala and her family.

This came after the duo conducted a lavish wedding for Sasikala’s nephew Sudhakaran, who later became the Chief Minister’s foster son. Even as early as 2000, there has been discomfort within the ADMK about Jayalalithaa’s proximity with the Sasikala family. According to Catch News -

Karuppasamy Pandian, Sedapatti S Regupathy, and R Muthiah - were expelled for opposing Sasikala and her family's clout in the party. Muthiah had claimed that Jayalalithaa had become "a handmaiden of the Mannargudi mafia" and that she had lost her "mental balance" under her aide's influence. None of this bothered Jaya, who continued to repose trust in her closest aide. Rumours of Sasikala forging Jaya's signature also made into public and this is said to have led to her ouster in 2011.

Following her ouster, Sasikala somehow managed to make her way back in. In a letter of apology she said –

Only after coming out of Poes Garden, I became aware of the machinations of my relatives who have misused my proximity and brought disrepute to akka and the party. I have no role whatsoever in that. Hereafter, any relative, whosoever it might be, who had conspired against akka, will remain a persona non-grata for me as well.

Sasikala’s husband Natarajan was active as a student leader during the anti hindi agitation. He got a job as a publicity assistant in the government under Karunanidhi’s leadership. In fact it was Karunanidhi who presided over his marriage to Sasikala in 1973. Sasikala went on to run a small video rental shop in Chennai. She was introduced to Jayalalithaa by Chadralekha, District Collector of South Arcot.

Natarajan claims that he acted as a political adviser to the Jayalalithaa and emboldened her to address one of the meetings when he came to know about efforts from a certain faction of oust her from AIADMK during MGR’s time. He said that when he came to know of MGR’s death, he instructed Sasikala to take her to MGR’s funeral and since then narrates several instances where he claims to have played a crucial role in her success. He claims that he broke away of his own volition and was not thrown out.When NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain asked him then about his equation with his wife, Natarajan said –

That is personal, you should not ask. You can read in my memoirs. If I say something, it will affect many things including the case. Why all of us are silent is because we are all involved in a connected case. Whatever we say won't only affect Jayalalithaa, but it also affect my wife, my brother-in-law's wife and my brother's son, who is like a son to me.

Natarajan is now back and even made an appearance at the Rajaji Hall.

According to News18, Natarajan is a key political player with friendly relations with the Congress and the BJP. The article quotes a source who said that Natarajan informed a leader in the Congress to advice Rahul Gandhi to visit Amma in Apollo Hospital.

But Natarajan's eye was not so much on the Congress which he knew was a spent force in Tamil Nadu . His eye was on something beyond that. On his own survival. It was on the BJP. Insiders say by it was by then becoming clear Jaya's condition was serious and that even if she were to come back home she may not be her old self again. Natarajan had to move in quick to ensure he and Sasikala are not left out in the race should anything happen to Amma.

Catch News also notes that the extended family too has built up a powerful business empire.

prominent members of the Mannargudi family include Sasikala's sister Vanithamani; her brothers Sundaravadhanam, Divakar and Vinodhagan; Vanithamani's sons TTV Dinakaran, V Bhaskaran and VN Sudhagaran; Natarajan's brother M Ramachandran; Sundaravadhanam's son S Venkatesh; and Vinodhagan's son TV Mahadevan. All of them have huge business interests in Tamil Nadu and also a sway over many AIADMK leaders and officers in the state administration. Members of the family are placed in strategic positions - in the police, bureaucracy, Jaya TV, offices of ministers - to ensure control over all key levers of power. The News Minute’s Ramanathan S tells us how the extended family has built its clout throughout the state. Dhivaharan, who was once struggling and out of work has amassed wealth and power-

Dr V Dhivaharan, known in Mannargudi as “Boss”, is one of the most influential individuals in the Cauvery-delta region, which includes Thanjavur and its surrounding districts. He owns and runs the all-girls Sengamla Thayaar Educational Trust Women’s College, lives on a massive property opposite the STET College at Sundarakottai near Mannargudi town and is said to be a power centre in the politics, economy and social fabric of the Delta region.

The TTV brothers, Sasikala’s nephews are powerful in southern Tamil Nadu, while R.P Ravanan looks after the Kodanadu estate. Sasikala’s sister in law Illavarasi also lived in Poes Garden and her son Vivek has taken an active part in politics as well as recent film ventures. However, more importantly, the article quotes several insiders who say that the family has placed loyalists at every level in the government and the police.

Sasikala’s family has its men – mostly from the Kallar community - placed at strategic positions, including all cabinet ministers’ offices. Further, they have their eyes and ears among the bureaucrats and the state cadre too.

A day after the death of Jayalalithaa, NDTV broke the news about a “midnight coup” led by Sasikala.

Journalist Sreenivasan Jain claimed that NDTV had sources to suggest that Sasikala and her family had ensured that none of the ADMK MLA’s knew of their leaders’ health condition and also forced all of them to sign on blank sheets of paper at the Apollo Hospital on 5th December, just before the death was formally announced. Jain also claimed that it was Natarajan who brokered deals with key players within the party to ensure that O.Paneerselvam would be unanimously elected as the next Chief Minister. Dr.Maitreyan of the ADMK flatly denied all the accusations. But since the story broke, there have several conspiracy theories floating around and it has become quite evident that the Sasikala family has quickly grabbed the opportunity to gain power.

No major opposition to Saiskala has cropped up as yet from within the party. However, Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s neice, who was not allowed to meet her in hospital has hinted that she will fight it out as legal heir, and even join politics if need be. There is surely a lot to fight for, not just political power, but control of property and businesses worth Rs.113 crores. The Scroll reports

Her wealth included Rs 10.63 crore worth of bank deposits. Investments in five firms – Shri Jaya Publications, Sasi Enterprises, Kodanad Estate (which holds hundreds of acres in the pristine Nilgiris hills), Royal Valley Floritech Exports and Green T Estate – amount to Rs 27.4 crore. Her jewellery is valued at Rs 41.63 crore and she also owns nine vehicles. Immovable assets include Rs 14.7 crore worth of agricultural land and residential and commercial buildings, including her Poes Garden residence amounting to Rs 43 crore.

Will the Mannargudi cartel and Sasikala prevail, or will there be a rebellion from within the party? Many will watch the political developments unfold over the coming weeks and months.

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