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01 Mar 2024, Edition - 3153, Friday

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Mannargudi mafia may lose out in the long run

Vidyashree Dharmaraj


But for the present, Sasikala’s stranglehold over party apparatus and government is likely to continue

Chennai: Amma has been laid to rest at a tearful farewell at Marina beach on Tuesday evening, but the shadow of her longtime companion and friend Sasikala Natarajan over AIADMK and government is very much present.

In fact, the visuals from Rajaji Hall, where the mortal remains of chief minister J Jayalalithaa were kept for people to pay their homage, convey this message to the masses. The presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his few ministerial colleagues indicated the importance the BJP gave to Jayalalithaa and AIADMK, which is undergoing one of its saddest moments.

It was Sasikala who was standing right next to the casket on which the body of Jayalalithaa was placed ever since people were allowed to walk up and pay their last respects on Tuesday morning. It was Sasikala and her family that was all over the place at Marina beach where the last rites and burial of Amma took place with full military honors.

It is now increasingly becoming clear that Sasikala will continue to wield considerable clout, as much as she enjoyed when she was the power behind the throne, within the party and on government. Amid reports that Sasikala could become the all-important general secretary of the party and keep a tight leash over chief minister Panneerselvam.

Not so long ago, several relatives of Sasikala, used to enjoy tremendous clout and in Tamil Nadu this group came to be known as Mannargudi Mafia. Sasikala hailed from Mannargudi and hence her relatives were dubbed thus.

Which is why, when DMK came to power in 1996, it targeted Jayalalithaa in the wealth case and also implicated Sasikala and two of her relatives. All four were convicted, but later the conviction was set aside by Karnataka High Court.

A former AIADMK minister recalled that relatives of Sasikala were of few means, but in just five years were owning imported cars. Despite allegations in media, the bonding between Jayalalithaa and Sasikala only grew stronger, together as they were in business deals and owned properties jointly. The huge Kodanadu estate is said to be bought in both of their names.

Amma tried to eject Sasikala twice – once in 1996 and five years later as Jayalalithaa was said to have frowned upon and threw her out of her house in 2011. Soon Sasikala was back and her control over Amma total.

At the time when Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were awaiting trial court verdict in the disproportionate assets case in 2014, one of her nephews allegedly usurped a multiplex in Chennai through dubious means.

Her relatives did not leave any chance to increase their influence in every walk of life and especially over the power structure in the government.

Political analysts feel that this situation may not last very long. Once other parties begin their predatory moves and or Chief Minister Panneerselvam begins to flex his own muscles the mafia will fall apart. Besides, local and regional party leaders too would begin to assert themselves and the pressure on AIADMK would increase to stay together for survival.

But in the near future, status quo is expected to be maintained, with everyone continuing as if nothing has changed.

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