As BJP wants her in ADMK, Sasikala stuns: ‘withdrawing from politics’

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 ‘withdrawing from politics’J Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala, who was released from a Bengaluru prison on January 27, issued a statement Wednesday that she has decided to “step aside” from politics. (File photo)

WITH JUST A month to go for Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala, who was released from a Bengaluru prison on January 27, issued a statement Wednesday that she has decided to “step aside” from politics and that she will pray for Amma’s (Jayalalithaa’s) “golden rule”.

A two-page letter, signed by her, and released first on Jaya TV, appealed to Amma’s followers to work hard to ensure her rule. “As Amma used to say, defeating the evil force DMK should be the main aim of all obedient cadre of Amma’s party,” Sasikala wrote, thanking all who showered her with love.

While Sasikala’s surprise and sudden decision is expected to help the ruling AIADMK and avoid splitting of votes, it comes as a jolt to her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who was ousted from AIADMK along with her in 2017. After defeating the AIADMK and DMK candidates in the high-decibel RK Nagar — Jayalalithaa’s constituency — bypoll in December 2017, he launched his own party, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), in March 2018. The party garnered a vote share of more than 4 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.

Minutes after her statement, Dhinakaran told media persons he was not in agreement with her on the decision. “I tried to speak to her, convince her… I told her this is unnecessary now, and requested her to remain in politics. I delayed the release of her statement for about 30 minutes. But I cannot stop her from taking her personal decision, isn’t it?” he said.

Just a day before, Dhinakaran had said that AMMK, which he founded and ran all alone when Sasikala was in prison, would be leading a third front in the elections. On Wednesday, he said the party was in talks with other important parties and that candidates would be announced on March 10. But Sasikala’s sudden decision will present a fresh challenge to Dhinakaran as the AIADMK-BJP alliance gets an opportunity to highlight this and rally the AIADMK cadre and avoid a split in votes.

Dhinakaran said he did not know what led Sasikala to take this decision. After her release from prison, Sasikala’s 350-km journey from Bangalore to Chennai by road in February, had taken 24 hours, with a huge gathering of people waiting hours to welcome her at more than 100 points along the highway. Even on the day she reached Chennai and again on Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary celebrations, she had categorically stated she will get back to politics and start meeting people soon.

“May be, it means she has nothing to claim… I said I will retrieve AIADMK as the leader of AMMK. I continue to say that as a follower of Amma. But she (Sasikala) may be thinking that the party is not united now and that she will step aside for the time being if it helps to unite everyone,” Dhinakaran said.

After Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, Sasikala had taken charge of the party. When O Panneerselvam led a revolt against her leadership upon the advice of some RSS and BJP leaders, Sasikala stood firm. The Panneerselvam faction was defeated in a floor test in the Assembly and she picked her loyalist Edappadi K Palaniswami as the Chief Minister of the AIADMK government in early 2017.

Having been convicted in a corruption case, Sasikala returned an outsider to Chennai last month, having completed her four-year jail term. It was the same case of disproportionate assets in which late Jayalalithaa was the first accused.

Dhinakaran, however, distanced herself from Sasikala’s position. He said AMMK was formed after the two were ousted from the party. “I started this party when she was in prison. I formed the party, I faced elections and now we are forming an alliance (third front),” he said.

Senior AIADMK leader K P Munusamy welcomed Sasikala’s decision. It was Dhinakaran who wished to destroy the AIADMK, he said. When asked about taking Sasikala back into the party, he said, “Time will tell you the answer.”

A source in Sasikala family told The Indian Express, there was no surprise in her decision. “She lived for three decades with Amma. Now she has lost Amma, she served the jail term, she lost her husband.. She has no children, nobody is there to look after her at this age. And if she has to save the party also, she will have to fight for it, wasting her complete energy. But for whom she should achieve all that?” the source said.

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