Sasikala was never Jayalalithaa’s maid, but even if she was, electing her would only be proof of a democratic and egalitarian society
A file picture of the late Jayalalithaa with her close aide VK Sasikala. Jaya referred to her as someone who took care of her like a mother. Pic/PTI
While I was in Chennai for four years as a newspaper editor-in-chief, I had never heard of VK Sasikala being referred to as the late Jayalalithaa’s maid. Until recently. My sister-in-law and her husband arrived from Guwahati (for a family member’s health crisis) and they asked me if Sasikala was really once Jayalalithaa’s maid. I took this to be another nasty rumour spread by our Great Leader. It started during Jayalalithaa’s long hospital stay last year and gained momentum when Sasikala took over after Jayalalithaa’s death as the AIADMK’s general secretary. It became a talking point when she decided to be the next Tamil Nadu chief minister, and became useful propaganda when acting CM O Panneerselvam indicated he would not easily give up the top job.
The rumour is wrong at many levels. Still, would it not be evidence of the authenticity of Indian democracy if the majority party in a large State elected a former maid as its leader? Would it not be evidence that India has managed the long-sought social mobility that eluded us for millenia? Would it not be a fitting reply to the global trend of oligarchs and businessmen grabbing top elective posts?
The rumour is nasty because Sasikala was not a maid. She (and her family, referred to as the Munnargadi mafia for their vulture-like presence around the late ex-CM) managed Jayalalithaa’s household. Jayalalithaa herself referred to this at a couple of public rallies years ago: at one she called Sasikala more-than-a-sister who took care of her while she was busy with affairs of the State; at another she said Sasikala was someone who took care of her like a mother.
The last parallel has apparently been twisted out of context so that Sasikala has been called Jayalalithaa’s ayah. It is the work of what many in Tamil Nadu call ‘the elite’; a codeword for that three per cent of the population that still tries to dominate the narrative, the Tamil Brahmins. Saying so is indeed politically incorrect, which is why non-Brahmin use the codeword. It is this ‘elite’ that began to whisper that Jayalalithaa’s death was suspicious (even a politician claimed she had been knocked down the stairs at home) — a well-known right-wing chartered accountant who championed demonetisation has called for an investigation into the death, as has as a well-known left-wing media honcho. Both are Tamil Brahmins, divided ideologically, but united in the fear that a backward caste like Sasikala (both she and Panneerselvam are Thevars, the dominant OBC group in Tamil Nadu) might take over.
This left-wing media honcho apparently (and privately) paid obeisance to Sasikala after Jayalalithaa’s death. Now his paper is arguing against her installation as CM, even though her party’s legislators support her, saying that matters should wait till the Supreme Court verdict on the corruption case in which Sasikala is an accused. It is to be pronounced this week. Incidentally, there was no such editorial against the number one accused in these cases, former CM Jayalalithaa herself.
For the elite, aided by the BJP’s post-truth apparatus, the transition from ayah to maid was seamless. The BJP’s aim in this situation is multiple — it wants to plant its flag in TN as it did in Karnataka a decade back, once the other old warhorse of state politics departs the scene; it wants to have Rajya Sabha support for legisation and also for July’s Presidential election; it is pretty much a trojan horse for ‘the elite’ as it keeps controlling the narrative in the State.
Immediately, it looks as if the BJP might even want the assembly dissolved, so that the 234 MLAs do not figure in the voting for the next President. No wonder Governor C Vidyasagar Rao is behaving like PC Sorcar Jr, disappearing from the scene and waiting for the court verdict instead of simply allowing the claimants prove their strength on the assembly floor.
The BJP is not alone in wanting the assembly somehow dissolved. MK Stalin of the DMK, who has taken over from his nonagenarian, ailing father, needs an election now. If Sasikala rules for the remaining four-plus years then, by the next assembly election, he will be close to 70, and will have even less charisma than he has now, which is precisely zero. The BJP propaganda campaign suits Stalin.
This is not to say that Sasikala will be a great or even a good CM. She apparently has language and attention issues. Her Munnargadi mafia will have a field day. (But then so would Panneerselvam, given his record as PWD minister; and so would the DMK, parts of which were implicated in the 2G scam.) That’s still no reason for ‘the elite’ to subvert a democratic process, simply because it doesn’t want a so-called maid to plunder to the family silver.
Aditya Sinha’s crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org