Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa passed away on December 5. Within two hours of her death at 11.30 pm on Monday, O Panneerselvam took over as the new chief minister. In the subsequent days, media reports suggested that Sasikala Natarajan, the close aide of Jayalalithaa, had become the frontrunner to take over as the new general secretary of the party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
But serious questions are being raised by Deepa Jayakumar, the niece of Jayalalithaa, on the speed with which the power transition is taking place. In an interview to Scroll.in on Saturday, Deepa Jayakumar said the Sasikala family owes an explanation to the people of Tamil Nadu on how the former chief minister’s health deteriorated so quickly. She said she, along with her brother Deepak Jayakumar, were the legal heirs of Jayalalithaa but she was kept away consciously from meeting her aunt. If no proper explanation was given, she would not hesitate to take the matters directly to the people who, she said, would not allow anyone to hijack the AIADMK.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
All indications show that Sasikala Natarajan might take over as the AIADMK chief in the coming days. How do you view this?
It really pains me to see all this politics take place even before the mourning for my dear aunt has concluded. But looking back as far as 2014 when my aunt was lodged in jail and then at the way in which matters were conducted at the hospital since September 22, I feel all this was completely pre-planned. This kind of swift takeover – or coup, as media has mentioned – is unheard of in Indian politics. It happens only when there is a clear successor. If you look back at history, when former Chief Minister CN Annadurai passed away in 1969, there were a group of people who were seen as successors. But even then electing the successor took a while. This was the same case with AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran in 1987. MGR had groomed my aunt Jayalalithaa. But in this case, it is neither. Nowhere has my aunt indicated who her successor should be. Just because someone lived in her house cannot be the reason for taking over the party.
Then how do you think this quick transition is happening?
I think this is being done so that no dissent brews and everything goes undisputed. We are forced to sit down and just watch. This is like how Saddam Hussein tried to take over Kuwait. It looks like that.
You tried to meet Jayalalithaa at the Apollo hospital. Why weren’t you able to? Were you expressly told not to meet her?
See, I was not communicated about my aunt’s health at all. I saw it in the newspapers and television channels. I was desperate to meet her and wish her well. But no one communicated to me. I then contacted the hospital administration.
You are a blood relative. Didn’t the hospital know that?
I did tell them and also said it was my right to see her as a relative. But it was of no use.
There was no response from Apollo?
No. There was absolutely no response from them.
Jayalalithaa had huge wealth running into hundreds of crores. Have you been told about any will she has written?
You should remember that apart from the wealth she earned on her own through her acting career, she also inherited a lot of wealth from my grandmother (Sandhya), who was also an actress. This apart, my great grandfather was a surgeon to the Mysore royals and he too had assets which were bequeathed. So a good part of the wealth was inheritance and my aunt has never disputed this. I have not been told anything about a will.
When did your family leave Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa?
I was born in 1974. We were all living in the same house. My grandmother passed away in 1971 and after that only my father and my aunt were living in that house. My father married my mother in 1972.
My aunt was an amazing person who showered love on us. I still remember those days when she would take us out and entertain us with such affection. But some time later, my father decided to move out since it had become a family of four and there were issues of privacy. My aunt was insisting for a long time that our family should return to Poes Garden. My dad used to tell us often that my aunt was calling us back. My brother and I often visited my aunt. She would send her car to pick us up.
This was before she became the chief minister?
This was a time in the late 1970s and early ‘80s when she was neither in cinema nor in politics. But after she became the chief minister [in 1991], she obviously did not have the same time for us. The meetings were not that frequent. Then we started meeting occasionally. It was a normal brother-sister relationship till my father passed away in 1995.
So you did not meet your aunt after 1995?
I met her several times after that. My last meeting with her was in 2007. After that, for some bizarre reason, my calls never reached her and even my letters were not replied to. This was when I suspected that maybe the letters were never given to her. I later left for United Kingdom in 2010 and then returned only in 2013.
You are saying she was not informed of your letters?
Exactly. After I returned in 2013, I tried to meet her. Police officers I contacted said she was willing to [meet me] and asked me to wait. But it never transpired.
Your brother Deepak suddenly emerged during the final rites on December 6. Did you know about this? And were you also asked to participate?
I was not aware of what was going on. I quietly went to Rajaji Hall where her remains were kept and paid tributes. I was never asked by anyone to come for the final rites.
Then how do you think Deepak went there?
I think it was because of community customs. In our tradition (Brahmin Vaishnavite), only a man performs the final rites. Maybe it was because of this they wanted him there. If you do not have a son or a grandson of your own, then a relative in that position does the rituals.
Were you surprised that she was buried and not cremated?
Yes. But I did not want to raise these issues then. And what can we do now? I will say one thing. She was very particular about such rituals all through her life. When my father passed away in 1995, she was the one who oversaw every thing and she made sure all the rituals were done according to tradition. I do not think such a person would have wanted to deviate from the customs and get buried. If she did want something like that, they should make her will or statement public. If I was consulted, I would have insisted on cremation.
Who do you think Jayalalithaa’s successor should be?
It is not for me or anyone else to decide. My aunt built this party with her blood and sweat and suffered a lot for it. The best way would be for the AIADMK cadres and the people of Tamil Nadu, who she loved more than anything else, decide the next leader. There should be no question of someone taking over or hijacking the party.
Will you take the plunge into politics if Sasikala takes over as general secretary? Some people think this is your motive.
I reiterate I have never had political ambitions. But I will do every thing to ensure that the party and legacy my aunt built is not stained. Who should head the party is for the people to decide. Of course, I would want to intervene. But I will wait for a proper explanation from them on what happened over the last four months before deciding on what do do.