VK Sasikala, a long-time confidante of the late J. Jayalalithaa, today officially seized full control over AIADMK and Tamil Nadu government as party legislators elected her as the leader of legislature party, setting the stage for her elevation to the post of Chief Minister.
Sasikala, who was appointed AIADMK General Secretary after the death of Jayalalithaa, will be the third woman Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Addressing the legislators, the 59-year old Sasikala, who lived with Jayalalithaa for over three decades, said outgoing Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam had pressed her to head the government.
She said it was Panneerselvam insisted that she first become the AIADMK chief too, she said. She said that her government would follow the footsteps of Jayalalithaa.
The party, in a statement said that Sasikala's name as the legislature party leader was proposed by Panneerselvam and seconded by other MLAs.
She belongs to the Thevar community, which has a dominant say in the AIADMK.
Despite being close to Jayalalithaa, Sasikala maintained a low profile in the public but was actively involved in managing the party affairs.
After the death of the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who was also the General Secretary of the AIADMK, Sasikala took her place in the party and Panneerselvam in the state government.
Earlier on Sunday, Panneerselvam and other ministers met Sasikala at the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa where Sasikala continues to live.
The meeting of the legislators was called at short notice, a day after Sasikala named some ex-ministers and others who had been earlier shunted out by Jayalalithaa to various party posts.
She also reached out to all those who were seen as a threat to her and placated them before becoming the party General Secretary.
Tamil Nadu's first woman Chief Minister was Janaki Ramachandran, the widow of the late M.G. Ramachandran, the AIADMK founder. But she was in office only for a brief period.
Janaki Ramachandran was succeeded by Jayalalithaa, who in May last year led the AIADMK to another victory in assembly elections.
Ever since Jayalalithaa's death in December, there had been a clamour that Sasikala should follow the earlier practice of both the party general secretary and the chief minister's post should be vested in the same person.
Among others, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai had backed Sasikala for the Chief Minister's post.
Thambidurai had said that the leadership in both the party and governance should be with the same person, while urging Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister.
He had cited the political tussle in Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh to drive home his point that the control of government and party should vest with the same person.
Sasikala was appointed as General Secretary by AIADMK's top decision-making body General Council on December 29. She took charge of the post on December 31, pledging to take forward the legacy of Jayalalithaa.
In December last year, four state ministers had asked Sasikala to become the Chief Minister, besides AIADMK General Secretary.
A resolution to this effect was passed at a meeting of Tirunelveli Urban Jaya Peravai (Forum), led by state AIADMK secretary and revenue minister R B Udhayakumar on December 17.
The other ministers who participated in the meeting were V M Rajalakshmi, Sevoor Ramachandran and Kadambur Raju.
Sasikala had been a close aide of Jayalalithaa for three decades and was always seen as a power centre in AIADMK.
Who is Sasikala?
Born in 1957 in Thiruthuraipoondi, about 330 km from Chennai, Sasikala was married to M. Natarajan, a Public Relations Officer with the Tamil Nadu government.
In the 1980s, Natarajan requested then South Arcot district Collector V.S. Chandralekha to introduce Sasikala to Jayalalithaa, then the AIADMK Propaganda Secretary.
Natarajan argued that Sasikala would help video record Jayalalithaa's functions.
With Jayalalithaa finding Sasikala's work satisfactory, they graduated to becoming friends. After a while, Sasikala moved into the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa in the heart of Chennai.
Sasikala slowly established her hold at Poes Garden by bringing in people whom she trusted.
Sasikala accompanied Jayalalithaa wherever the latter went. She would be invariably seated behind Jayalalithaa in the car.
Jayalalithaa publicly called Sasikala a sister not related by blood.
But their relationship turned sour in 2011 and Jayalalithaa threw out Sasikala and her family members from her residence. But they later patched up, ensuring Sasikala's return to the AIADMK.
It is not going to be a smooth sailing for Sasikala as the decision on the disproportionate assets case is yet to be delivered by the Supreme Court and if it goes against her, then there will be a major setback for her and the party.