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Jaya throws out Sasikala lock, stock & family

Chennai, Dec. 19: Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa today expelled long-time confidante Sasikala Natarajan and a dozen of her relatives from her party in a sudden decision that AIADMK sources said was aimed at pre-empting a palace coup.

Party insiders said Jayalalithaa had learnt of an alleged secret plan by Sasikala to seize control if she was convicted in an assets case and was forced to step down.

The marching orders came in the morning. Sasikala, 54, who had been living in Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence in central Chennai for over two decades, was asked to pack up and leave, her emotional entreaties failing to sway the AIADMK boss.

That was around 9. An hour later, Jayalalithaa issued a terse statement announcing the expulsion of the Sasikala clan from the party. The statement asked party members not to have any contact with the expelled group but gave no reasons for the sack.

Among those expelled were Sasikala’s husband M. Natarajan, a former state government employee, and four of her nephews, including V.N. Sudhakaran, the foster son whose wedding Jayalalithaa had celebrated in grand style in 1996 only to disown him later. In the evening, Jayalalithaa added one more name to the list of those expelled, taking the number to 14.

Sources said the action against Sasikala and her relatives was the culmination of a weeding out of officers through whom Sasikala had been controlling the administration behind Jayalalithaa’s back.

But the real reason for cutting off the entire family was attributed to a secret conclave Sasikala and her family held last week in Bangalore where she appeared in a disproportionate assets case in which Jayalalithaa deposed last month.

Her husband Natarajan, who had been declared a persona non-grata by Jayalalithaa years ago, was also present at the meeting.

The sources said Jayalalithaa had learnt that at the meeting a plan was mooted to take control of the government and the party if Jayalalithaa got convicted and was compelled to resign. The weeding out started soon after.

Jayalalithaa summoned her ministers and told them not to heed orders from her friend. Soon, Panneerselvam, a relative of Sasikala and a retired IAS officer who had been appointed officer on special duty in the government, was given the marching orders.

Then Thirumalaichamy, a DSP and Jayalalithaa’s personal security officer for over a decade, was transferred, apparently because he had been passing on information to Sasikala.

After a week in which Sasikala’s wings were gradually clipped, Jayalalithaa today decided to wield the axe against her friend of 24 years.

“There clearly was a plan to cut Sasikala’s influence to size but Jayalalithaa would have realised that these would only be half measures as long as Sasikala remained entrenched in Poes Garden,” a senior AIADMK leader said. Sasikala was a member of the AIADMK’s central executive.

After the initial shock, party workers and functionaries described the decision as a bold move that would benefit the party and the government.

“Many wrong things would happen using the name of Sasikala or her relatives when our leader had promised a clean administration,” a party MLA said.

Senior officers said some contractors were using Sasikala’s influence to corner crucial contracts circumventing the normal process. Some observers, however, wondered if Jayalalithaa would be able to stick to her decision.

In 1996, after her party’s electoral rout, Jayalalithaa had announced that she was distancing herself from Sasikala. Within a few months she had issued a statement describing her as someone as close as a sister.