- Sasikala Natarajan could be AIADMK general secretary, say sources
- She has never held a post in the party or Tamil Nadu government
- Party inclined to distance from Sasikala's corruption cases, say sources
J Jayalalithaa's close companion Sasikala Natarajan, always her faithful shadow, remained firmly by her side on Tuesday as lakhs streamed into a public hall in Chennai to pay their last respects to the four-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Sasikala's family members flanked the body, not any leader of Jayalalithaa's AIADMK or even her loyalist O Panneerselvam, who kept her photo on the dais as he took oath as Chief Minister late last night.
The dominating presence of Sasikala, in a black sari and red-rimmed eyes, was seen by many as symbolic of the power that the former video store owner enjoyed for decades as the other occupant of Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden home in Chennai.
By dint of that association, Sasikala, 59, is emerging from the background as a key figure in Tamil Nadu politics. Sources say she or a person of her choice could take over as the general secretary of the party - essential for her to retain her grip on power.
Sasikala has never held a post either in the government or the party - and that is how Jayalalithaa kept it for three decades, even though she confided in her and relied on her for advice.
Sasikala was introduced to Jayalalithaa in the 1980s and, over the years, became a permanent presence in her life and her home.
Jayalalithaa was criticized for the extravagant wedding of Sasikala's nephew, adopted by the Chief Minister as a foster son, in 1995. The two, dressed in almost identical jewellery and saris, became one of the most abiding images of Jayalalithaa's life.
In December 2011, the besties fell apart and Jayalalithaa briefly expelled Sasikala, her husband and family members from the party, suspecting that they were plotting against her. It didn't last. Four months later, Sasikala publicly distanced herself from her family and was back with her "Akka" (sister).
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