Opponents Of Sasikala As Chief Minister Say Experienced Hands Are Gone
As VK Sasikala awaits her shot at Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, criticism of her ascension to the top job with absolutely no political experience is surging. Leaders of other parties have said that her promotion, planned by the ruling AIADMK, is not acceptable; on social media, hashtags like #SasikalaShortCut are being used to offer similar judgement; and at Chennai's famous Marina Beach last evening, recently the venue of huge student protests, people said they deserve better governance and respect for the support that they extended to Ms Jayalalithaa's party last year by re-electing it for a consecutive term, an anomaly in Tamil Nadu which has a long tradition of voting out the party in power.
Political opponents also point to other changes in top positions to allege unwelcome moves at a vulnerable time for the state - intel chief Satyamoorthy, appointed in December, has "gone on leave" - a euphemism for being sidelined. So has top bureaucrat Sheela Balakrishnan, a former chief secretary and adviser to Ms Jayalalithaa, who held a key role in ensuring the administration ran smoothly during the former Chief Minister's lengthy hospital stay. In the last three days, other senior officials who have been removed include Santa Sheela Nair, who was Officer on Special Duty in the Chief Minister's Office, and two of four secretaries to the Chief Minister.
It was the uber-charismatic J Jayalalithaa, of many saris and jewels and populist schemes fame, that led the AIADMK back into office in May last year despite a campaign from which she was largely missing on account of poor health. In September, she was hospitalised. Supporters across the state, with an established predisposition for the melodramatic, began praying publicly. Many travelled to Chennai's Apollo Hospital, which said the 68-year-old Chief Minister was being treated for a respiratory illness. The caginess with which it offered updates on her health turned the hospital into a zone fecund for conspiracy theories that forced a lengthy press conference as recently as yesterday with doctors stating there was no "slow poisoning", amputation or transplant.
In early December, when Ms Jayalalithaa died, lakhs of people streamed into a public auditorium to pay their last respects to "Amma" or mother. By her side, her eyes red-rimmed and in a dark sari, stood Ms Sasikala, her live-in aide, supposedly estranged for several years from her husband (who nevertheless was present at the memorial).
It was Ms Sasikala, 61, a former video cassette seller, who was credited with various AIADMK leaders, for the seamless transfer of power within hours of Ms Jaylaalithaa's death to the mild-mannered O Panneerselvam, who had filled in earlier as well as Chief Minister on a few occasions, including when Ms Jayalalithaa and Ms Saiskala were arrested in 2014 on charges of corruption. Their subsequent acquittal has been challenged in the Supreme Court which has said it will deliver its verdict next week. Public opinion and political pressure are now building to demand that Ms Sasikala be banned from taking office as Chief Minister till the top court rules on whether she's guilty of aiding Ms Jayalalithaa to acquire over 60 crores of wealth that could not be explained by their known income in the early 90s.
On Sunday, the AIADMK said that it had unanimously chosen Ms Sasikala to replace Mr Panneerselvam as Chief Minister. Though the party's decision was seen as an intent to provide and gain from continuity (Ms Sasikala's role in shaping Ms Jayalalithaa's decisions was well-known), critics say that transplanting her as Chief Minister while her Supreme Court case is decided is unsuitable. They also say that in the churn among top officials lie attempts to put handpicked officers in key posts and departments instead of the practiced and steady hand of experts; in its place, they say, the AIADMK is risking the state's health by placing it in the hands of a novice whose main credential is her inarguable proximity to the party's former leader.
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