From Chinnamma to Puratchi Thai: How VK Sasikala's innings startled ADMK leaders?

When MG Ramachandran (MGR) founded the ADMK fifty years ago, he would have never thought that the party's golden jubilee anniversary will be filled with incessant political chaos and that the party would go without stable leadership. What had been a fortress under the leadership of MGR and his successor J Jayalalithaa has now been witnessing a great divide and stumbling a way to set things right. The absence of a prominent face after the demise of J Jayalalithaa has pushed the party into a leadership crisis with an ongoing battle of the trilogy to take over the party. 

Things have changed a lot in the party after 2016. Jayalalithaa has died in December 2016 and her demise had birthed a vacuum in the leadership. While Jayalalithaa's long-time associate VK Sasikala had wooed the support from the party cadres to take over the party, she was sent to incarceration in February 2017 after being convicted in the Disproportionate Assets case in which Jayalalithaa was the first accused. She was awarded four years of imprisonment in Bangalore and ahead of entering the prison, she has nominated ADMK leader Edappadi Palaniswami to replace Jayalalithaa as the next Chief Minister.

Sasikala has gone into prison by keeping the post of the party's general secretary. Months after she was lodged into the prison, Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam, who was dissenting against the rise of Jayalalithaa, had merged their factions together with the mutual decision of ousting Sasikala from the party.  In September 2017, the ADMK General Body meeting had decided to remove the post of the General Secretary and announced that Jayalalithaa would be honoured as the permanent General Secretary.

The meeting was also created two new posts -Coordinator and Joint Coordinator to which Panneerselvam and Edappadi Palaniswami were appointed respectively. For decades, the weather in ADMK didn't favour dual leadership and the party has been going through such a fashion of leadership for the past five years, which had caused turbulence and stirred a leadership crisis. Besides these intra-party furores, the ADMK had lost major elections under the current leadership, which has largely failed to gain confidence from the cadres across the state and had crisis had kept VK Sasikala on the fray. 

Edappadi Palaniswami's controversial leadership in the party and governance in the state had made the party defeat several elections - the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the 2021 Assembly polls, and the recently-held rural local body polls. The back-to-back debacles against the party had triggered an apparent voice that spoke about a leadership change. Three months ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls, jailed leader VK Sasikala was released from prison after completing a four-year prison sentence. She was given a rousing welcome in Chennai and when it was expected that she would battle to take over the ADMK ahead of the elections, she had announced that she will stay off from active politics.

However, neither cadres nor her rivals in the party believed that it was her end and that she won't take part in politics. She had stayed off to test the competency and leadership of Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam in the 2021 assembly polls. The ADMK had faced an unprecedented blow in the 2021 assembly polls as the sequel of the massive anti-incumbency wave against Palaniswami's regime. When the DMK started its rule, Sasikala had started her phone outreach and reached out to several ADMK cadres across the state to test their pulse and support her. 

She has been working behind the screens and was establishing a direct connection with the cadres, who supported and welcomed her to take over the party. With her close aides, VK Sasikala had been planning to tour the state and to begin her innings, she was waiting for a perfect time. It has finally come in the way of ADMK's 50th anniversary. The party had marked its 50th anniversary on Sunday - October 17, 2021, and Sasikala has apparently vowed that she is still the general secretary of ADMK. On Saturday - October 16, Sasikala had visited Jayalalithaa's memorial on Marina Beach in Chennai. By paying her respects, Sasikala had sought the blessings of Jayalalithaa as she was set to begin her game to take over the ADMK. 

It was the first time in four years that Sasikala had visited Jayalalithaa's memorial and during her visit, she had gone emotional and broke down in tears and the presence of hundreds and thousands of cadres had startled the current ADMK leaders, who found trouble in celebrating the anniversary. The political observers had said that her recent innings had shown that she has come here to stay in politics and she has been building a big plan to take over the party. Her day out on Sunday has indeed poured more tension on Edappadi Palaniswami and his camp amid the fact that his leadership had eroded the party.

Sunday was a big day for VK Sasikala as her comeback drive had driven her to the residence of the party's founder. Sasikala had been called as 'Chinnamma' after the demise of Jayalalithaa, whom the cadres fondly called as 'Amma' (Mother). On Saturday, Sasikala gave herself the title of 'Puratchi Thai', to show that she is equal to MGR and Jayalalithaa, who were called as 'Puratchi Thalaivar' and 'Puratchi Thalaivi' respectively. On Sunday, Sasikala had thrown a bombshell towards Edappadi Palaniswami and Panneerselvam by unveiled a stone plaque in which she was named as the ADMK's General Secretary, which seemed everything was preplanned. 

She had hoisted the flag at the MGR Memorial and unveiled the stone plaque and her name above the inscription of 'General Secretary' had shocked the party leaders. Addressing at a function held at the memorial, Sasikala said, "Everyone here knows the reason why I stood aside during the assembly elections. No harm should come to the party because of me. The divisions among us had helped our enemies. At this time, unity is important." The political observers say that her speech had sent a signal to Edappadi Palansiwami and O Panneerselvam to come together and to accept her leadership to unite the party. 

A stone plaque inscripted with the name of VK Sasikala as the party's General Secretary


By displaying her allegiance to the party founders and cadres, Sasikala said that she had ensured that the ADMK came back to power before her jail sentence. However, the current ADMK leaders have been affirming that there is no place for Sasikala in the party. While Sasikala held celebrations at MGR memorial house, the ADMK leaders had unfolded the party's golden jubilee celebrations at its headquarters in Royapettah and it didn't forget to slam Sasikala and her new title of Puratchi Thai. Senior ADMK leader D Jayakumar asked Sasikala that what revolution she has done to call herself Puratchi Thai. She has done Puratchi to benefit her family alone. Jayakumar has further said that ADMK has taken legal action against Sasikala for hoisting the party flag for calling herself the general secretary of the party.