Convict to CM challenger: Will Sasikala's release be a threat to TN CM?

Sasikala belongs to the Thevar community, a backward caste dominant in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, while Palaniswami represents the Gounder community.
The past three and a half years have been tough for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami. He faced challenges, including keeping his flock together, and handling cyclones, a water crisis, an economic downturn, and now the pandemic. Soon Palaniswami faces one more challenge ― the release of V K Sasikala, the jailed aide of former chief minister Jayalalithaa.
The big question is: Will her release be a threat to Palaniswami? The answer is while it may give him moments of nervousness, he will not be replaced, say political experts.

 
BJP Spokesperson Aseervatham Achary recently tweeted Sasikala would be released on August 14.

Sasikala was sent to jail for four years in February 2017, when the Supreme Court overruled the Karnataka High Court’s judgment acquitting Jaya-lalithaa, Sasikala, and her relatives Ilavarasi and Sud-hakaran in the Rs 66-crore disproportionate assets case.

According to media reports, any prisoner is eligible for remission after he or she serves two-thirds of the sentence. 
Generally, according to prison rules, remission is allowed on the basis of conduct and employment in prison. In Karnataka, learning Kannada is also taken into account for remission. A convict on simple imprisonment is eligible for holiday/leave for six days in a month. In Sasikala’s case, she is eligible for 216 days’ holiday/leave for three years (earlier she had stayed in prison for 35 days in 1996-97 and 2014). All told, it comes to roughly 250 days. If this is anything to go by, she can stay out at least for 250 days till February 14, 2021, when her jail term of four years will end.

The big battle
Subramanian Swamy, a BJP MP, earlier said when Sasikala was released after the end of her prison term, a major change in Tamil Nadu politics would come about. “It will be difficult to do politics in the state without Sasikala. She has experience and talent. Her community is backing her.”

 
She belongs to the Thevar community, a backward caste dominant in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, while Palaniswami represents the Gounder community.

Traditionally, the AIADMK, to which Palaniswami belongs, had been dominated by Thevvar community, but in recent times the Gounders have gained more prominence. Lack of charismatic leaders with a mass appeal in the party has helped Palaniswami.

Political analyst Sumanth C Raman says: “I don’t believe the release of Sasikala will have a major impact on the stability of the government. She does not enjoy public support and even the disgruntled leaders in the AIADMK know that. While she will be useful as a bogey to threaten the chief minister, I don’t see her taking control of the AIADMK. The party will have virtually no chance if it faces the electorate in 2021 under her leadership.”

Sasikala will not be able to contest election for six years because she is a convicted person. Agreed senior AIADMK leaders, who are loyal to Sasikala but continuing in Palaniswa-mi’s camp.

Former Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader V Pugazhendhi, who joined the AIADMK early this year, said Sasikala’s early release would set the ball rolling for realignment in the AIADMK and bring stability to the party. Pugazhendhi said the dual leadership in the AIADMK ― of the chief minister and his deputy, O Panneerselvam ― had not provided the required stability. “The AMMK has faced setbacks with many leaders deserting the party under Dhinakaran’s leadership. She (Sasikala) alone could be the unifying force,” he said.

Political analyst Babu Jayakumar, in a report, was quoted saying all the AIADMK ministers, and lawmakers, as well as front line leaders, owe their positions to Sasikala. “EPS (the chief minister) himself was her nominee and he seldom utters a word against her and there are unconfirmed reports that he is in touch with her,” said Jayakumar.


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