As VK Sasikala Preps For Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's Role, Challenges Ahead

 VK Sasikala, the longtime friend of J Jayalalithaa who emerged from the shadows after her death, will take over as the next Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in a remarkable rise for a person who has never fought an election. Even before an oath ceremony, her name and image is prominent on the Twitter page of the Chief Minister's Office or CMO, with traces of outgoing Chief Minister O Panneerselvam long gone.

The Twitter page changed just minutes after the ruling AIADMK's lawmakers elected Ms Sasikala as their chief, setting the stage for her takeover as Chief Minister. Mr Panneerselvam, always the stand-in Chief Minister, proposed her name and resigned soon after the vote.

Sources say the oath ceremony may be held on Thursday; February 9 is believed to be an auspicious date. It will depend on the schedule of Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, who is in Delhi for the wedding of a union minister's son. His absence from Tamil Nadu at this time has driven speculation that the Centre is not happy at the AIADMK's decision to elevate Sasikala.

The 61-year-old former video cassette seller, who has been seen in Jayalalithaa's signature green in every recent public appearance, faces more than a few challenges as she prepares to rule one of India's most politically vital states.

Within six months after taking over, she has to be elected from an assembly seat.

During that period, she is expecting an important verdict - the Supreme Court is expected to decide in May on a disproportionate wealth case. Party leaders argue that Ms Sasikala was acquitted in the case along with Jayalalithaa, but an appeal is before the top court.

On why Ms Sasikala waited all this time after Jayalalithaa's death on December 5 to step into her shoes, sources say "Chinamma" or "younger sister to Amma", as she is known in the party, was in mourning.

Winning the perception battle is another one of Ms Sasikala's trials, with a section of the party as well as the opposition DMK questioning her credentials as successor to Jayalalithaa - who rose to power after long years of struggle and elections.

"The people of Tamil Nadu did not vote for anyone from Jayalalithaa's household to become CM," tweeted DMK's MK Stalin yesterday.

In the past few weeks, Ms Sasikala has managed to hold the grieving party together and stave off a power tussle between veterans.