K Sasikala – a close aide of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa – is to be released from jail on the morning of January 27, her lawyer, Raja Sethurapandian, said Tuesday night, citing an communique from Bengaluru jail officials.
Sasikala, who became party chief after Jayalalithaa died in 2016, was jailed four years ago in a disproportionate assets case, in which the former Chief Minister was the principal accused, and is scheduled to be released after paying a Rs 10 crore fine.
Her release comes just months before Tamil Nadu holds Assembly elections.
The deaths of Jayalalithaa (in 2016) and the DMK’s MK Karunanidhi (in 2018), another former Chief Minister and an iconic figure in the southern state’s political landscape, leave a massive vacuum that many are racing to fill.
At the height of her power Sasikala was a hugely influential force within the AIADMK and, if she is able to rediscover even some of that influence, she could emerge a key player in the election.
Earlier today, however, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami emphatically ruled out talk of Sasikala’s re-entry into the ruling AIADMK, which is reportedly under pressure from its ally the BJP.
“No chance for that. She is not in the party at all… she is not in the party. 100 per cent she will not be admitted. AIADMK is now functioning after clearly deciding on this. There is no different opinion on this,” Mr Palaniswami told reporters in Delhi.
The Chief Minister, who visited Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, denied he discussed the subject of Sasikala’s return; the BJP reportedly pushed for this to guard against splintering of votes that could benefit the opposition DMK.
Mr Palaniswami famously fell at Sasikala’s feet in February 2017 after she anointed him chief minister; this was before she was shipped off to jail to serve her sentence.
Months later, while she was in jail, the Chief Minister and O Panneerselvam, who rebelled against Sasikala, patched up and ousted her. Many feel Sasikala might be motivated to seek revenge.
Mr Panneerselvam, now the Deputy Chief Minister and who also heads the AIADMK, belongs to the same community (Thevar) as Sasikala, and many say this could help mend fences.
The AIADMK has announced that Mr Palaniswami will be the chief ministerial candidate, but the BJP is yet to endorse this – another potential sign of unrest in the ruling alliance, although the BJP has said its leadership will offer its endorsements in due course.