BACK TO THE BATTLEFIELD
THE WEEK|February 21, 2021
With her dramatic return to Tamil Nadu after four years in jail, ousted AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala has formally launched her campaign to take back control of the party and the government from Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami
LAKSHMI SUBRAMANIAN

On the morning of February 8, as she set out from a luxury resort outside Bengaluru, V.K. Sasikala—the expelled general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)—made it clear that she was determined to challenge the party leadership for her claim to the legacy of her late friend, former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Sasikala started her journey to Chennai in Jayalalithaa's favourite Toyota Land Cruiser flying the AIADMK flag, despite strident objections and legal challenges raised by the party's senior leadership. Clad in a green sari—said to be a Jayalalithaa favorite—and a shawl in AIADMK colors draped around her neck, the 66-year-old Sasikala looked calm, despite the enormity of the situation.

A large number of vehicles joined her motorcade as she rolled out of the resort where she had isolated herself for more than a week after being discharged from Victoria hospital in Bengaluru. She had tested positive for Covid-19 a few days before she was released from the Parappana Agrahara jail in Bengaluru, where she was serving a four-year sentence in a corruption case. The huge crowds, life-size cutouts, posters, banners, and garlands welcoming Sasikala seem to have sent out a strong message to her rivals. As she crossed the border and entered Tamil Nadu, she was asked by the police, acting on a complaint by the AIADMK leadership, to remove the party flag from her SUV. Sasikala did not remove the flag but continued the journey in the vehicle of an AIADMK office-bearer from Krishnagiri district.

Her journey from Bengaluru to Chennai, which normally takes around seven hours, took twice the time as enthusiastic supporters lined up in more than 60 locations to give her a rousing welcome. The motorcade reached Chennai only the next morning. Upon reaching Chennai, Sasikala went straight to the Ramapuram Garden residence of AIADMK founder and former chief minister M.G. Ramachandran. The Tamil Nadu government, in anticipation of Sasikala's return, had closed down the newly-opened Jayalalithaa mausoleum on Marina beach and her Veda Nilayam residence which was recently converted into a memorial.

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