Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami today emphatically ruled out the prospect of VK Sasikala – former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s aide and a claimant to the top post after Jayalalithaa died in 2016 – re-joining the ruling AIADMK.
Sasikala, who was jailed four years ago in a disproportionate assets case, is expected to be released next week after paying a Rs 10 crore fine.
“No chance for that. She is not in the party at all… she is not in the party. 100 per cent she will not be admitted. AIADMK is now functioning after clearly deciding on this. There is no different opinion on this,” Mr Palaniswami told reporters in Delhi.
He also said he would inaugurate a memorial to Jayalalithaa, one of the state’s tallest leaders, on January 27 – the day Sasikala is expected to step out of jail.
The Chief Minister is in the city to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah amid reports that the BJP (which is an ally of the ruling AIADMK in the southern state) wants its partner to join forces with Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK.
This, reports suggest, is to guard against splintering of votes that could benefit the opposition DMK.
Tamil Nadu will hold Assembly elections later this year and the deaths of both Jayalalithaa and iconic DMK leader MK Karunanidhi leave a massive vacuum that many are racing to fill.
Mr Palaniswami was similarly assertive in November, when it was first suggested Sasikala could be released ahead of the election. There will be no change in the party’s stand on this issue, he said.
At the height of her power Sasikala was a hugely influential force in Tamil Nadu politics. If she is able to rediscover even some of that influence and sway a few leaders to her side, she could emerge a key player in the election.
And then there is TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK, which polled five per cent of the votes in last year’s Lok Sabha election and could influence Assembly election outcome in many constituencies.
Mr Palaniswami famously fell at Sasikala’s feet in February 2017 after she anointed him chief minister; this was before she was shipped off to jail to serve her sentence.
Months later, while she was in jail, he removed her the post of General Secretary, and many feel Sasikala might be motivated to seek revenge.
In February, as she was proceeding to Bengaluru’s Parappana Agrahara Jail, she stopped at Jayalalithaa’s memorial and was seen hitting it thrice with her right palm – a gesture seen as three vows taken to avenge what she thought were wrongs done to her or the memory of the former Chief Minister.
Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam – another claimant to the top post – also rebelled against Sasikala, but caste ties (both are from the Thevar community) could mend fences.
The AIADMK has announced that Mr Palaniswami will be the chief ministerial candidate, but the BJP has yet to endorse this – another potential sign of unrest in the ruling alliance.