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Chennai: AIADMK legislators on Sunday elected General Secretary V.K. Sasikala as leader of their legislature party, paving the way for her to become Tamil Nadu's third woman Chief Minister.
Addressing the legislators, the 59-year old Sasikala, a long-time confidante of the late J. Jayalalithaa, said outgoing Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam had pressed her to head the government.
It was also Panneerselvam, who succeeded Jayalalithaa after her death in December, who insisted that she first become the AIADMK chief too, she said.
"Since all stressed that the one person should hold both the posts – party General Secretary and Chief Minister – I agreed to the proposal," Sasikala said. She made it clear that the Tamil Nadu government would follow the footsteps of Jayalalithaa.
According to AIADMK sources, Sasikala's name as the legislature party leader was proposed by Panneerselvam and seconded by other MLAs. She belongs to the Thevar community, which has a dominant say in the AIADMK.
Despite being close to Jayalalithaa, Sasikala maintained a low profile in the public but was actively involved in managing the party affairs.
Her progress towards the party's and the government's top posts appeared natural once the iconic Jayalalithaa left the AIADMK minus a strong leader.
Born in 1957 in Thiruthuraipoondi, about 330 km from Chennai, Sasikala was married to M. Natarajan, a Public Relations Officer with the Tamil Nadu government.
In the 1980s, Natarajan requested then South Arcot District Collector V.S. Chandralekha to introduce Sasikala to Jayalalithaa, then the AIADMK Propaganda Secretary.
Natarajan argued that Sasikala would help video record Jayalalithaa's functions.
With Jayalalithaa finding Sasikala's work satisfactory, they graduated to becoming friends. After a while, Sasikala moved into the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa in the heart of Chennai.
Slowly establishing her hold at Poes Garden by bringing in people whom she trusted, Sasikala used to accompany Jayalalithaa wherever the latter went. She would be invariably seated behind Jayalalithaa in the car.
Jayalalithaa publicly called Sasikala a sister not related by blood.
But their relationship turned sour in 2011 and Jayalalithaa threw out Sasikala and her family members from her residence. But they later patched up, ensuring Sasikala's return to the AIADMK.
Supporters of Sasikala point out that she was involved in the party affairs assisting Jayalalithaa – and had been with her during the latter's tough times.
Earlier on Sunday, Panneerselvam and other ministers met Sasikala at the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa where Sasikala continues to live.
The meeting of the legislators was called at short notice, a day after Sasikala named some ex-ministers and others who had been earlier shunted out by Jayalalithaa to various party posts.
She also reached out to all those who were seen as a threat to her and placated them before becoming the party General Secretary.
Speaking to reporters here after the AIADMK legislators meeting, Milk and Dairy Development Minister K.T.Rajenthra Bhalaji said: "Now a brave Tamil woman will be the Chief Minister. Can't a Tamil woman become the Chief Minister?"
He said Sasikala's popularity amongst the people would grow over time. Post Jayalalithaa, the party does not seem to have a charismatic leader who can fetch votes and also hold the party together.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Tamil Nadu President Tamilisai Soundararajan told reporters that electing Sasikala is AIADMK legislators' right but what is the urgency for that.
Tamil Nadu's first woman Chief Minister was Janaki Ramachandran, the widow of the late M.G. Ramachandran, the AIADMK founder. But she was in office only for a brief period.
Janaki Ramachandran was succeeded by Jayalalithaa, who in May last year led the AIADMK to another victory in assembly elections.
However it is not going to be a smooth sailing for Sasikala as the decision on the disproportionate assets case is yet to be delivered by the Supreme Court and if it goes against her, then there will be a major setback for her and the party.