“Will follow in Amma’s footsteps.”
These words clearly sum up the astonishing rise-and-rise of Sasikala Natarajan.
Days after the hysteria that followed the death of J Jayalalithaa in December 2016, Sasikala Natarajan on Sunday was elected the Legislative Party leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
This paves way for her elevation as the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, replacing incumbent O Panneerselvam who resigned on Sunday.
At a party meeting in Chennai, party MLAs unanimously elected Natarajan as the leader of AIADMK legislature after Panneerselvam proposed her name for the post.
Once the video recorder for AIADMK, Sasikala is now going to be the 7th Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. She will be the third woman CM the state. Here is a quick tour of what we know about this political ‘dark horse.’
Sasikala was born in 1957 in Thiruthuraipoondi, Tamil Nadu. She got married to M Natarajan, who was working as a Public Relations officer in Tamil Nadu government. Interestingly, DMK Chief M Karunanidhi came to bless the married couple.
Sasikala first met Jayalalithaa in the early 1980s in a meeting felicitated by VS Chandralekha, who was then working as the District Collector of South Arcot.
At that time, she owned a video parlour and was going through a financial crisis as her husband had lost his job. Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, was a celebrated film star and a budding politician.
Post the meeting, Sasikala began to work for AIADMK. Her job involved recording video of party functions across the state. Sasikala soon started recording all the public events and shows for Jayalalithaa.
With time they both gradually became close friends and Sasikala could be seen beside Jayalalithaa in most of her events.
They eventually commemorated their friendship in 1987 when Jayalalithaa and her supporters were mocked during the funeral of party mentor MG Ramachandran. After the incident, Sasikala moved in with Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence in Chennai. Soon her husband and some relatives also joined in to help Jayalalithaa manage her political affairs.
In years to come, Sasikala grew in stature within the party as well as in the political space around Tamil Nadu. She was seen as a shadow and a close confidant of Jayalalithaa.
However, things started to turn sour after 1996 when Sasikala’s nephew Sudhakaran’s foster son was married in an extravagant ceremony that unveiled the show of power and wealth. The Jayalalithaa government came under heavy criticism for the event and eventually AIADMK lost the 1997 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
Later, in December 1996, Sasikala was arrested in the ‘Colour TV’ corruption case. Jayalalithaa during this period ranged herself from Sasikala, who was remanded to judicial custody for 30 days.
On 19 December 2011, Sasikala along with her relatives was expelled from AIADMK by Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence following a report of a possible coup against her. Jayalalithaa alleged that Sasikala and her family were working against her.
The two friends and working colleagues did not stay away for long and patched up within months. Sasikala Natarajan was restored as a party member after presenting a written apology. Sasikala again started to stay with Jayalalithaa at her residence, minus her relatives and loyalists.
In the days after Jayalalithaa’s death last year, AIADMK general council unanimously appointed Sasikala as the party’s general secretary.
Sasikala Natrajan who has never held public office before is now en-route to becoming the seventh CM of Tamil Nadu.