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The rise and rise of Chinnamma

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It was no surprise when J Jayalalthaa’s close confidante Sasikala Natrajan, clad in a black sari followed the former Chief Minister on her last journey too as the entire state mourned the death of their beloved ‘Amma”. She even sidelined senior ministers of AIADMK and the new CM O. Panneerselvam and dominated the last rites also as had done previously during Jayalalthaa’s heydays in office.

Sasikala, who is also called ‘Chinnamma”by the millions of AIADMK followers had a tumultuous relationship with Jayalalithaa which has been rewarding for both in their personal as well as public life. As a matter of fact the special bonding of these two attracted more attention than Jaya’s equally stormy relations with her mentor MGR and M Karunanidhi, the patriarch of main opposition DMK in Tamilnadu.

Now who is this Chinnamma who was born in 1957 in an agricultural family at Mannargudi. We need to revisit the eighties, nearly thirty years ago a woman who ran a video rental store in Chennai also began to shoot for video films at wedding and other functions. At around the same time an ex leading female Tamil film star joined the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) at the behest of her co-star and mentor MGR. The former was Sasikala while the latter was none other than mercurial J Jayalalitha. Their paths were soon destined to converge and spark off a decades-long friendship.

Sasikala came from a rather modest background and her husband M. Natrajan, an assistant public relations officer with the Tamil Nadu government approached V.S.Chandralekha, Cuddalore collector and sought an appointment with Jayalalithaa, the popular silver screen goddess who had joined the AIADMK in June1982. Natrajan was an ambitious man and he knew that the political patronage will take her wife’s fledgling business to a different level and he got permission from Amma to video graph the meetings of the party.

The actor-turned politician was made the propaganda secretary of the AIADMK and Sasikala became incharge of shooting her speeches at the various public rallies which Jayalalithaa addressed. Jayalalithaa was very fond of watching Hindi,Telgu and Malyalam movies and Sasikala was the one who catered to her immense appetite for watching movies. It was normal for an ex-silver queen to be fond of being clicked and shot in videos and Jayalalithaa was no exception.

AIADMK party founded by MGR, split into two after his death, one faction was led by his widow Janaki Ramachandran while the other faction went under Jayalalithaa but only to be reunited after Jayalalithaa took absolute control of the entire party. Sasikala stuck with Jayalalithaa during this whole crisis and also moved to her Poes Garden residence in the late 80s to become an integral part of Amma’s life.

AIADMK party was thrown into a crisis when the founding father and the chief minister Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR passed away in 1987. MGR was not only a megastar of Tamil films; he was also a cultural icon of the state and was in the seat of chief minister for almost ten years between 1977 and 1987.

After a prolonged power struggle Jayalalithaa finally became the chief minister in 1991 and since then Sasikala and her entire clan have been Amma’s shadow. Sasikala, though a member of AIADMK has never occupied any formal post in the party hierarchy but it never became an impediment for Chinnamma for stepping in the spotlight.

Sasikala’s bonding with Amma became so strong that Jayalalithaa even adopted Sasikala’s nephew V N Sudhakaran, a hitherto unknown entity in Tamilnadu politics as her foster son. Sudhakaran was betrothed to the legendary Tamil matinee idol Shivaji Ganesan’s granddaughter Satyawati and the wedding was scheduled to be held in the September of 1995.

Jayalalithaa clearly instructed her party cadres that the marriage of her foster son should be considered as one within the family and should be celebrated with pomp and show with no holds barred. The pompous and the extravagant wedding spelled the downward spiral of Amma and public anger built up against her as a princely sum of around eight crore rupees was splurged on the wedding and the images of a fully decked up Amma with her companion Sasikala became a symbol of corruption and nepotism.

After the wedding of Sudhakaran, things soured between Jayalalithaa and her foster son. Jayalalithaa, though, never revealed the reason for disowning her foster son, various reports from the time suggest that Sudhakaran used his position to siphon off crores of rupees from her Poes Garden residence which he never returned. He was disowned by Amma on August 25, 1996 and a day after he termed it as his “Independence Day”.

In an interview to the Outlook magazine in 1997 Sudhakaran said that Jaya made him his foster son on his day of engagement only to settle her old score with the legendary and hugely popular Shivaji Ganesan. As per Sudhakaran’s version every time Shivaji Ganesan entered a function, Jayalalithaa had to stand up which she highly resented. So by positioning herself as the groom’s mother Amma ensured that Shivaji was relegated to an inferior status, being the bride’s emissary, he alleged.

Natrajaan was quite ambitious and his actions soon displeased Jayalalithaa and Amma made sure that he is kept away from Poes Garden. After the debacle in the 1996 assembly elections even Sasikala went away from Jayalalithaa. In December, 2011 Sasikala and all her close relatives were expelled from the AIADMK’s executive council but Sasikala made a dramatic comeback after few months later after writing a public apology.

O. Panneerselvam was unanimously chosen as the successor of Jayalalithaa and was hurriedly given oath as the next Chief Minister but posters supporting Sasikala sprang up dramatically in entire Chennai projecting their Chinnamma (Mother’s sister) as the next party general secretary. It was Sasikala who stood next to Jayalalithaa mortal remains at Rajaji Hall and also her entire clan –siblings, nephews, nieces of Sasikala and Natrajan came out in public for the first time and surrounded her body. Although Amma had her own blood relatives it was Sasikala who performed her last rites. It will be interesting to see whether Chinnamma the new empress of AIADMK will also run the party with iron hand like her mentor J Jayalalithaa.

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