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Can Deepa Jayakumar get Jayalalithaa’s followers to rally around her?

Since Jayalithaa's passing, Jayakumar’s voice has been drowned out by the news involving Sasikala's transcendence to AIADMK's political throne.

Written by Radhika Iyengar |
January 17, 2017 8:37:11 pm
Jayalalithaa, Jayalalithaa death, Jayalalithaa successor, deepa jayakumar, jayalaltihaa niece, J Jayalalithaa, J jayalalithaa niece, Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa Deepa, AIADMK, Deepa Jayakumar AIADMK Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar pays floral tribute at her burial place in Chennai (PTI Photo/File)

The day J Jayalalithaa passed away Tamil Nadu came to a standstill. However, soon the country’s lens panned from Jayalalithaa’s illness and death to O Panneerselvam, the newly declared Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and more importantly, on Sasikala Natarajan — her trusted aide. At the periphery of all the drama however, stood another individual: Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s niece, who was denied access into the Apollo Hospital to meet her aunt, and later wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral.

Since Jayalithaa’s passing, Jayakumar’s voice has been drowned out by the news involving Sasikala’s transcendence to AIADMK’s political throne. On Tuesday, however, Jayakumar threw a curveball. She resurfaced and made a statement that not only announced her foray into politics, but also challenged Sasikala’s reign at the AIADMK. “I cannot accept anyone else in Jayalalithaa’s position,” she said. She also went on to declare that the AIADMK cadre was in fact in support of her and hoped she would steer the party.

While Jayakumar has trumpeted the fact that she is the rightful heir to Jayalalithaa’s political empire and legacy, the AIADMK has gone on record to counter her statement. “Where was Deepa all these years? The party has formally chosen Sasikala as the leader and the real cadre is with Chinnamma,” said AIADMK spokesperson C R Saraswathi.

However, the big question that arises is this: Can Jayakumar do it? Is she capable of becoming a political behemoth like her aunt? Does she carry the inimitable charisma that Jayalalithaa had to mesmerise and woo the entire state of Tamil Nadu? Is she really capable of challenging and thwarting her political rival, Sasikala who has already cemented her position as the AIADMK chief?

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One could argue that neither Jayakumar nor Sasikala have formidable political experiences to fall back on, but Sasikala has closely shadowed Jayalalithaa over the last 27 years. By virtue of proximity and a heightened degree of trust that Jayalalithaa invested in Sasikala, the latter learned the skills of a highly intelligent, politically strategic Amma. But she also inherited the respect, admiration and fondness of the AIADMK. In comparison to Sasikala then, one cannot deny that Jayakumar, far younger than Sasikala and inexperienced in the wolfish realm of politics, has much to learn.

However, Jayakumar has been meticulous and precise in building her self-image for the public. For instance, aware of the fact that she bears a striking, albeit uncanny, resemblance to her late aunt, Jayakumar is projecting herself as Jayalalithaa’s doppelganger. Her hair, center-parted, pulled back and tied tightly in a bun, is how Jayalalithaa wore hers. Jayakumar has even been seen wrapped in the same kind of saree her aunt once wore. She even makes her public appearances with her saree’s pallu pulled over her arm, like an encased doll.

A 42-year-old with a Masters in International Journalism from the UK, Jayakumar seems attuned to the theater of politics. She has been calculative in making declarations regarding her political ambitions on days which have been associated with Tamil Nadu’s cinematic-political demigods. While she used MG Ramachandran’s (fondly known as MGR) birth anniversary to launch herself into politics, Jayakumar promised that she will reveal the blueprint of her next steps on Jayalalithaa’s birthday. On that day she will inform the public whether she’ll team up with the AIADMK or steer clear of it by establishing her own party. One highly doubts whether she’ll be a part of the AIADMK though, considering Sasikala’s iron hand barred Jayakumar from entering the Apollo Hospital or attending Jayalaithaa’s final rites ceremony.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

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