- Only Sasikala Natarajan, core advisers had access to Jayalalithaa
- Ministers, legislators made to sign blank sheets in Apollo basement
- Sources: Before Jayalalithaa announcement, negotiations on power transfer
Ms Natarajan, 59, who lived with Ms Jayalalithaa in a palatial home valued at nearly 50 crores, has no official position in the AIADMK. And yet, her 24X7 access to the party chief, including in her last hours alive, allowed Ms Natarajan, who once sold video cassettes for a living, to ensure that Tamil Nadu's ruling party bent to her will.
Sources within the AIADMK, who asked not to be named, laid out how Ms Natarajan may have maneuvered the party's transitioning away from Ms Jayalalithaa to a new leadership that has her approval.
On Sunday at 4:30 pm, the Chief Minister had the massive cardiac arrest that she would not recover from.
It was only later that the legislators learnt that the procedure that lasted almost all night was to install an ECMO or Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device, which takes over the functions of the heart and lungs.
The next morning, all ministers and legislators were summoned to a meeting in the basement of the Apollo Hospital, where Ms Jayalalithaa had been admitted nearly 70 days earlier.
At 2 pm, word arrived that the Chief Minister had died. Several legislators dissolved into tears. They were then told to meet at the party office at 6 pm. When they got there, the five most senior ministers, including Mr Panneerselvam, were missing. Those who attended the party meeting believe that this is when Ms Natarajan negotiated the transfer of power with the five heavyweights in the AIADMK.
News channels mistakenly reported at about 5 pm that Ms Jayalalithaa had died. Though the hospital clarified that was not the case, the legislators were not allowed to leave the party office for the hospital. Shortly after 11 pm, the five missing ministers arrived, grim-faced. The party chairman, Madhusudhanan, was handed a one-line statement to read out - it established that Mr Panneerselvam would be the next Chief Minister.
However, V Maitreyan, Rajya Sabha MP from AIADMK, denied that the meeting at the Apollo Hospital took place. "I deny it. I deny it... You probably you won't know the system of the AIADMK. Our party runs on loyalty, our party runs on true obedience and discipline. And obviously when Panneerselvam is going to be the chief ministerial nominee, I don't think there is going to be any discussion or any... all sort of things."
Ms Natarajan never held any government or party post but derived power from being Ms Jayalalithaa's longtime companion since the 1980s. She is from the same community as Mr Panneerselvam, who emerged as Ms Jayalalithaa's most important lieutenant with Ms Natarajan's support.