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The Taming Of The Shrewd -The Jaya-Sasikala Split


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									                       THE JAYA-SASIKALA SPLIT

               The Taming Of The Shrewd
   A famous friendship. A famous fallout. There has been a seismic
   political rupture in Tamil Nadu. This is the inside story of why it
            happened. Ambition. Betrayal. Fact. And fiction.

              -Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.


this abruptly, at least not ones of such long standing. The corridors of
power in Chennai are agog with the sudden, inexplicable blood feud that
has broken out between AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, chief minister of
Tamil Nadu, and Sasikala Natarajan, her closest friend and political

                                      A little over a month ago, on 17
                                      December 2011, in a dramatic and
                                      sweeping move, Jayalalithaa expelled
                                      Sasikala and her brood from her
                                      legendary 36 Poes Garden house in
                                      Chennai (The Posse is out of Poes
                                      Garden, by Sai Manish, 31 December
                                      2011), triggering a Byzantine story of
                                      thwarted friendship, overweening
                                      ambition and political vendetta that
                                      perhaps has no equal in India. The
                                      sheer seismic nature of this rupture —
                                      and the huge political ramifications it is
                                      likely to have — can only be understood
                                      if one recalls the sheer depth and
                                      spread of the relationship.

                                      Over the past 25 years, ever since the
                                      death in 1987 of her mentor MG
                                      Ramachandran — or MGR, as the late
                                      chief minister of Tamil Nadu was known
                                      — no one has been closer to the
                                      enigmatic Jayalalithaa than Sasika la.
                                      She has been everything: soulmate,
                                      housekeeper, political confidante. And a
                                      tremendous but unelected power centre.
                                      In this time, Sasikala‟s family — the
                                      „Mannargudi mafia‟, as it is
                                      disparagingly called, the name referring
                                      to the small town in Tiruvarur district
 Trusted men Chief Secretary          that Sasikala comes from — has become
 Debendranath Sarangi (top) and DGP   extremely controversial and influential.
 K Ramanujam
                                 The family includes her husband M
                                 Natarajan, her brothers, nieces,
nephews and brothers- in-law. In 1995, in one of the most flamboyant
displays of their friendship, the wedding of V Sudhakaran, Sasikala‟s
nephew, was presided over by Jayalalithaa. It was a staggeringly
ostentatious event, with tens of thousands of guests, and became an
election issue the following year, when Jayalalithaa was voted out of

Much of this is part of Tamil Nadu folklore. The legendary friendship had
even withstood the many dark cycles of political wilderness, when
Jayalalithaa would lose power and stay largely out of public eye. This time
round, when the AIADMK swept back to office in the summer of 2011, it
seemed the good times were back for Sasikala and her family. They were
in business again.

Yet, barely six months into power — and into the perceived good times —
and the two are at daggers drawn. To many, it just doesn‟t seem to make
sense. Yet, in the intricate political circles of Chennai, there are some who
know the story — or at least elements of the story. The result, as
TEHELKA finds, is a fascinating mix of fact and myth, of conspiracy and
unverifiable truths, and political rumours so bizarre, it‟s almost as if they
could only be true.

SINCE JAYALALITHAA’S sudden ambush on 17 December, Sasikala —
once known to loyalists as Chinnamma or Little Mother — has had the
police at her doorsteps. A case has been registered against her brother
VK Divakaran (nickname: The Boss) and he is on the run, evading arrest.
Rumours in the state say he is already in illegal custody. The case against
Divakaran relates to a complaint by one Kasthuri Balasubramanian of
Rishiyur village in Tiruvarur district.

Kasthuri has alleged that her house was demolished on 28 November
2011, by seven persons and some local officials, at the behest of
Divakaran. In response, the police raided Divarakan‟s house in
Mannargudi as well as his office in the nearby Sengamala Thayar Arts and
Science College that he runs.

There is a perception the mafia was hoping to replace Amma
(Jayalalithaa) with Chinnamma, and install Sasika la as the CM
That‟s not all. Ravanan RP, married to Sasikala‟s cousin, has apparently
been tortured by the police in the course of anti -corruption investigations.
The Tamil Nadu Directorate of Vigilance is believed to be preparing to act
against many members of the Sasikala clan. The long queues of favour -
seekers and hangers-on have disappeared. Ousted by Jayalalithaa, the
Mannargudi mafia is in deep trouble.

Why did this happen? The grapevine is hyperactive. There is a perception
that Sasikala, 55, is guilty of planning a palace coup, and of the
Mannargudi mafia hoping to replaceAmma (Jayalalithaa) with Chinnamma,
and install Sasikala as chief minister. Allegedly, the disproportionate
assets case that Jayalalithaa has been travelling to Bengaluru for — she
is being questioned by a special trial court there — gave the Mannargudi
group ideas. An unfavourable judgment or remark by the court and an
orchestrated political campaign, it was felt, would have put pressure o n
Jayalalithaa to resign and hand over the government to somebody she
could trust.

IT SOUNDS like a wild conspiracy, but worse has happened in Tamil Nadu
politics. Also, though Jayalalithaa has been so dependent on Sasikala all
these years, she may have been smelling something fishy. Till a month
ago, her Poes Garden residence was full of Sasikala‟s men. (When
Sasikala had first moved in with her in 1989, she had brought 40 servants
from Mannargudi to Poes Garden to run Jayalalithaa‟s house. All maids,
cooks, securitymen, drivers and messengers at Poes Garden were hired
from Sasikala‟s hometown.)
For a decade, nobody had access to Jayalalithaa without Sasikala‟s
permission. All independent assistants had been slowly but systematically
moved out. It had reached such a stage that ministers were discussing
policy issues with Sasikala. Civil servants were briefing their chief minister
in the presence of Sasikala. Her words were considered Jayalalithaa‟s
command. She was the unstated deputy chief minister.

She also had a grip on the party structure. The AIADMK organisation is
divided into regions, and most of the regional directors were Sasikala‟s
relatives. As such, MLAs were either chosen by the Mannargudi mafia or
tried to ingratiate themselves to it.

Jayalalithaa had created a Frankenstein‟s monster. It was she who had
initially told party workers to meet Sasikala if they wanted to bring issue s
to her notice. Sasikala grabbed the opportunity and began to filter what
information went up to the chief minister. Jayalalithaa became a prisoner
of the Sasikala coterie.
So how did Jayalalithaa find out? According to an AIADMK insider, it was
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who alerted the lady in Poes Garden
and warned her about the Mannargudi mafia. Modi apparently told
Jayalalithaa to keep a watch on her inner ring. He is believed to have
indicated to her that big investors were avoiding Tamil Nadu because of
the extortionate demands of Sasikala and her family.

Specifically, an NRI businessman who came to Tamil Nadu with a project
had to shift to Gujarat because the Mannargudi mafia had sought a 15
percent cut.

Jayalalithaa was allegedly given sedatives and chemical substances
that had small quantities of poison by a nurse appointed by

The degree and brazenness of Sasikala‟s operations were a shock for
Jayalalithaa. She could not have been unaware that members of the
Mannargudi mafia were taking money for transfers and postings in the
state bureaucracy and from local business groups — for party affairs,
among other things — but Modi‟s cautionary story told her of corruption of
a far higher order: she was being kept out of the lo op by Sasikala.

Shortly after the conversation with Modi, there came the episode of the
Chennai monorail project. The chief minister was keen to put it on the fast
track and favoured awarding it to a Singapore company that she felt was
best equipped. She told Chief Secretary Debendranath Sarangi to begin
the paperwork. At the end of the process, when the file reached the chief
minister, she found a Malaysian company had been put on top and the
Singapore company downgraded. She called Sarangi and questioned him.
It was Sarangi‟s turn to be surprised. He told her he had received the file
with a note from her saying the Malaysian company was potentially the
best choice. Jayalalithaa asked for the entire correspondence related to
the monorail project and was surprised to find her signature on a note
favouring the Malaysian company. It was forged. Furious, Jayalalithaa
summoned Sasikala, who denied any involvement.
Following another tip-off, Jayalalithaa sought independent medical opinion
on the medicines she was being given. Without telling Sasikala,
Jayalalithaa apparently went to see a well -known doctor. Her tests
revealed, the story goes, that she was being given sedatives and chemical
substances that had small quantities of poison. Her nurse at home had
been appointed by Sasikala, and served the chief minister fruits and
medicines at regular intervals.

By now Jayalalithaa had realised she had to act fast. She was also
beginning to sense the unease in the bureaucracy and picking up murmurs
of protest against the Mannargudi mafia. For instance, ever since re -
election, she had planned to charge senior DMK leaders in land -grab
cases. Several senior DMK leaders had been arrested and a case filed
against MK Stalin, son of former chief minister M Karunanidhi.

Jayalalithaa had told the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti -Corruption
(DVAC) to implicate the Karunanidhi family only when it had solid
evidence. Nevertheless, the case against Stalin was a weak one. W hen
Jayalalithaa asked Pon Manickavel, the then Inspector General (IG),
Intelligence, he told her the case had been filed following consent from
Sasikala. Jayalalithaa could smell trouble and a secret deal between the
Mannargudi mafia and the DMK family.

It was K Ramanujam, Director-General of Police (DGP), Tamil Nadu, who
put the last nail in the coffin. Ramanujam was alerted by Shanker Bidari,
DGP Karnataka, about a secret meeting of the Sasikala family in
Bengaluru in the first week of December. Apparen tly, intelligence officials
in Karnataka had bugged the room where the meeting took place and the
tapes made their way from the state police HQ in Bengaluru to its
counterpart office in Chennai.
On the warpath Sasikala‟s husband Natarajan is inching closer to the DMK
Photo: A Shankar

According to police sources in Tamil Nadu, the tapes revealed details of
the conspiracy against Jayalalithaa. The meeting in Bengaluru is believed
to have been attended by Sasikala, Natarajan, Ravanan (married to
Sasikala‟s first cousin), Midas Mohan (Natarajan‟s business partner), VK
Sudhakaran, TTV Dinakaran (Sasikala‟s nephews) and M Ramachandran
(Natarajan‟s brother). At the meeting, Jayalalithaa‟s troubles relating to
the disproportionate assets case were discussed, and names of potential
successor chief ministers thrown about.

After listening to the tapes, Jayalalithaa decided to get going. For five
days, the state police kept a close watch on individual members of the
Mannargudi mafia. Ravanan — his father-in-law and Sasikala‟s father
were brothers — was tracked in Singapore, where he had gone for a
business meeting.

It was a meticulous operation. The DGPwas tasked with gathering
evidence against the Sasikala cabal. A private detective agency was
hired. Phones of the Sasikala family members and their close associates
were allegedly tapped. Daily reports were sent to the chief minister

                                               At the end of it all, Jayalalithaa
Nobody had access to Jaya
                                               had a thick dossier on the
without Sasikala’s nod. It had
                                         Mannargudi mafia but also realised
reached such a stage that
                                         its tentacles were all over her
ministers were talking about
                                         party and government. They had
policy issues with Sasikala
                                         the men and resources to seriously
                                         challenge her. It was not going to
be easy to strip away their influence. Changes were made in the state
police‟s intelligence wing, which was believed to be a hotbed of Sasikala
loyalists. Jayalalithaa posted Thamarai Kannan as the Inspector General
(IG), Intelligence, as she wanted an officer who had no links with the
Mannargudi mafia.
Next, the chief minister made changes in her per sonal security. Her
personal security officer (PSO), Thirumalai Swami, had been serving her
for the past 10 years, brought into the job from the state police in 2001. It
is believed Sasikala used him to monitor the chief minister‟s movements.
Swami too has been transferred.

Finally at a Cabinet meeting, Jayalalithaa made it clear ministers would
receive instructions from her alone and should not act on messages
delivered, allegedly on her behalf, by Sasikala or others.
Many ministers took this lightly, pre suming Sasikala and Amma had had a
temporary tiff. The Mannargudi mafia, however, was alarmed. It was
beginning to see a pattern.

On her part, Sasikala was confident that she could win back Jayalalithaa
through emotional blackmail, and that the chief mini ster needed her
around in Poes Garden. It was a fatal miscalculation. The ground had

On 17 December came the moment of truth. Jayalalithaa asked the
Mannargudi clan to pack up and leave her house. Some of these people
had been staying in Poes Garden since 1989, when Jayalalithaa became
Leader of the Opposition. No amount of pleading would get her to change
her mind. Meanwhile, police and legal teams, as well as chartered
accountants, began investigating the Sasikala family‟s investments and
started the process of recovering money.

Ravanan was picked up as soon as he landed from Singapore. A raid at
his house recovered Rs 50 crore in cash. Ravanan — or Ravanan
Ratnaswami Pichai, to give his full name — heads the Coimbatore-based
Midas Golden Distilleries, which supplies liquor to the Tamil Nadu State
Marketing Corporation. Sasikala set up the distillery in 2002 when
Jayalalithaa was in power, but it is understood that the company continued
to get lucrative contracts through the DMK years as well.
Chief adviser Modi alerted Jayalalithaa that Sasikala was extorting money from businessmen
Photo: AP

Ravanan holds the key to Sasikala‟s business empire. It is estimated to be
worth at least Rs 5,000 crore. “That is certainly not an overestimation,”
says a senior politician, “in fact, it may be an undervaluation. The chief
minister doesn‟t have much money with her. Her household, government
and party were run by the Mannargudi group.”

Even tickets for the 2011 Assembly election were sold, and Sasikala is
alleged to have collected 300 crore in this manner. Of course, the tickets
were sold to Mannargudi sympathisers, and thereby the deal was doubly

One example cited is that of Sivarajamanickam, f ormer district Congress
president in Tiruvarur, who was given the AIADMK ticket from Divakaran‟s
home constituency. As it happened, he lost to TRB Raja, son of TR Baalu,
former Union minister. Even so, Divarakan‟s plan had been to get a weak
man to represent Tiruvarur and so control the constituency himself.
                                        IN THE six months the AIADMK
Jayalalithaa is also believed to
                                        has been in power, the
have identified 13 ministers who
                                        Mannargudi mafia has been very
may be dropped soon. An
                                        busy. According to some
overhaul of the bureaucracy is
                                        observers, it may already have
already on the anvil
                                        earned Rs 1,000 crore — largely
                                        from the bus fare hike (which
benefited private operators who paid kickbacks) and the liquor price hike
(which helped Sasikala‟s own companies).

“The Mannargudi mafia was very organised and well structured,” says an
AIADMK functionary. “They had persons tracking ministers and key
bureaucrats. With every minister, one personal assistant would be
attached to monitor him. There is a saying in Tamil Nadu that we have a
minister wearing a dhoti (the real minister) and a minister wearing a pant
(personal assistant). The pant minister is often more powerful than the
dhoti minister.”

On 18 December, Jayalalithaa expelled leading members of the
Mannargudi mafia from the party. She also transferred 38 personal
security officers attached to ministers. Among those expelled were
Sasikala and her husband Natarajan. Also out were Divakaran, S
Anuradha (Sasikala‟s niece and the managing director of Jaya TV),
Sudhakaran (once called Jayalalithaa ‟s foster son), Ravanan and others.
However, Jayalalithaa did not touch any of her Cabinet colleagues, not
even those regarded as close to Sasikala and her brother. In mid -
December, Public Works Department Minister KV Ramalingam called on
the chief minister. She greeted him with a disarming smile and then threw
a barb: “Welcome, future chief minister of Tamil Nadu.” Ramalingam
allegedly turned pale.

Ramalingam, 54, is a former Rajya Sabha member. In the 2011 Assembly
election, he was given a ticket from Erode (West) constituency on
Sasikala‟s insistence. Ramalingam is well -regarded for his astrological
skills and knowledge of tantra. It is understood he carried out rituals in
early 2011 to facilitate the AIADMK‟s victory in the Assembly election.
It is here that the story gets murky. Jayalalithaa now believes that in the
past few months, Ramalingam was told to depute a Kerala astrologer to
perform tantric and other occult rituals to help Sasikala replace
Jayalalithaa as chief minister. Ramalingam apparently double-crossed
Sasikala, and got the rituals and pujas performed not to help Sasikala but
to help himself. Trusted by none, Ramalingam could soon lose his job in
the Cabinet.

Now the heat is on the Mannargudi mafia. Sasikala herself may be
arrested in a Coimbatore land-grab case. The account books of Jaya TV
reveal many discrepancies, and Anuradha too may be arrested in this
connection. Divakaran has apparently been offered a deal: return the
money and buy freedom. He is still bargaining, insiders say.
Ilavarasi Jayaraman, Sasikala‟s sister -in-law, has already been detained
and interrogated by the Tamil Nadu Police.

Jayalalithaa is also believed to have identified 13 ministers who may be
dropped soon. Already, Agri SS Krishnamoorthy has been removed as
Minister for Commercial Taxes and placed in the School Education
Department. The ministries of industries, electricity, transport, public
works, revenue, prohibition and excise, and forests have been identified
for a purge. The veteran O Panneerselvam, Minist er of Finance and
former chief minister, is also said to be jittery.

An overhaul of the bureaucracy — especially in the Revenue Department
and other key economic departments — and in the upper echelons of the
police is already on the anvil.

                                        One source says the chief minister
Tickets for the 2011 Assembly
                                        is planning changes in the Legal
polls were sold to mafia
                                        Department and could replace
sympathisers, and Sasikala is
                                        many prosecutors handling
alleged to have collected Rs 300
                                        sensitive cases. The future of
cr in this manner
                                        Navaneetha Krishnan, Tamil
                                        Nadu‟s advocate general, is also
under question in political circles.
Nevertheless, all this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Mannargudi mafia
is believed to have investments not only in Tamil Nadu and neighbouring
states, but also in Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai. It was so comfortably
ensconced in business affairs of the party and of Jayalalithaa personally
that Sasikala was acting as printer and publisher of Namathu MGR, the
AIADMK publication. As she was shown out of Poes Garden, Sasikala was
forced to sign documents relinquishing the publisher‟s post in favour of

That was the easy part. “To recover the money looted by the Mannargudi
mafia,” says a senior politician, “needs a lot of work.”
On its part, sections of Sasikala‟s family are understood to have
established contact with the Karunanidhi family and sought the DMK‟S
protection. Things will come to a head only after the court in Bengaluru
decides on the corruption charges against Jayalalithaa.

THE NATURE of this fallout between the two most powerful women in
Tamil Nadu cannot be fully understood unless one recalls their
beginnings. Sasikala came from humble roots, and ironically, from a family
across the political divide: the DMK.
Today, Mannargudi, a sleepy town 34 km from Thanjavur, is famous as
Sasikala‟s home territory, though she was not born there. Her family
actually comes from Thiruthuraipoondi, 28 km away from Mannargudi,
where Sasikala‟s grandfather Chandrasekharan ran a medical shop. His
son Vivekanandan took over from him and was known to be a DMK

Vivekanandan‟s elder son Sundaravadanam, who worked in the State
Bank of India, was transferred to Mannargudi in the late 1950s. He
constructed a house there and moved his brothers and si sters to help
them get a better education. Sasikala was the fifth among the siblings.
She grew up as something of a local beauty. The entire family had strong
DMK moorings but the idyll ended when Sundaravadanam was caught for
diverting loans meant for poor families to his mother‟s account and
pocketing the subsidy. Following this, he was shunted out of Mannargudi.
In 1974, Natarajan, a DMK youth leader, wanted to marry Sasikala.
Sundaravadanam objected because Natarajan‟s government job was only
a temporary political appointment. However, Natarajan approached
Sasikala‟s brother-in-law Vivekanandan, and permission was finally given.
Ironically, Sasikala was blessed at her wedding by DMK supremo
Karunanidhi, who had been impressed by young Natarajan‟s oratory . No
one could have foreseen at the wedding that Sasikala would wind up as
the confidante of Karunanidhi‟s most bitter political opponent.

During the Emergency, Natarajan was sacked from his job. He took his
dismissal to court and Sasikala sold her orname nts to pay the lawyers. It
was a hard life. Shortly afterwards, she opened a video rental shop in
Chennai to make ends meet. She purchased a video camera and learnt to
shoot social functions and weddings for a fee.

Around this time, there was a woman call ed V Chandralekha, who was
district collector of Arcot, and Jayalalithaa was already a powerful figure
in the ruling AIADMK. Natarajan, who knew Chandralekha, approached
her to put in a word with Jayalalithaa, so that his wife could record
Jayalalithaa‟s public events. Chandralekha obliged. The introduction
changed Sasikala‟s destiny. Sasikala impressed Jayalalithaa with her
skills as a cameraperson. Chandralekha remembers her as being “shrewd,
hard-working and determined”. She certainly was.

In the late 1980s, as MGR began to weaken and then passed away, there
was a power struggle within the AIADMK. Jayalalithaa was harassed by
RM Veerappan, then acting chief minister, and extremely isolated. It is
during this time that Sasikala moved closer to her and fin ally into her

Sasikala provided Jayalalithaa emotional and managerial support.
Natarajan, an old hand in politics, masterminded Jayalalithaa‟s comeback.
The rest is well known.

DESPITE THE rupture now, the Mannargudi mafia is not giving up. On 17
January, Natarajan addressed a Pongal gathering in Thanjavur and sent
veiled threats to Jayalalithaa. “Now, I have become a complete leader,” he
said. “Now, I‟m a leader without strings or fetters… Many people have
come here expecting to hear decisive announcements from me. I will take
the decision at an appropriate time. I changed the government in Tamil
Nadu. Many feel that someone else is reaping the reward for my efforts.
I‟m silent because the decision I take should not adversely affect the
peace and harmony of the state…”
Clearly provoking the chief minister, he also exclaimed he needed Rs 50
lakh to build a memorial for the “martyrs of the Tamil Eelam war” in Sri
Lanka. The money was raised in a matter of minutes. First, Natarajan sold
his Nissan car, with its VIP number plate, for Rs 20 lakh. Next his Rolex
watch was sold for Rs 5 lakh. Third, his Hyundai Sonata and Ford
Endeavour SUV were sold for Rs 10 lakh each. Natarajan was still Rs 5
lakh short, and resorted to theatrics. He called an NRI b usinessman in
Dubai and demanded a donation of Rs 5 lakh — which was duly given.
Financial resources, political clout, community mobilisation, the Eelam
card (indicating an obvious synergy with the DMK): Natarajan was sending
multiple signals in Thanjavur that day. The question is, has he worried
Jayalalithaa at all?

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