Krishnagiri (TN)/Bengaluru: Expelled AIADMK leader V K Sasikala on Monday returned to Tamil Nadu to a grand reception, days after completing her four-year jail term in Bengaluru in a corruption case, amid indications of a confrontation with the ruling party which she once controlled.
Sasikala, a close aide of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, crossed into Tamil Nadu at Athipalli in Krishnagiri district bordering Karnataka, around 10 am as her supporters broke into celebrations, dancing to drum beats and showering flower petals on her convoy. She later offered prayers at a Goddess Mariamman temple in Hosur town in the district, about 40 kms from Bengaluru.
Her nephew T T V Dhinakaran, who accompanied her, said she would visit the residence of AIADMK founder and late Chief Minister M G Ramachandran in Chennai later. He claimed several AIADMK functionaries turned up to welcome Sasikala and that she was travelling in the vehicle of one of the ruling party functionaries after her car developed some issue.
Sasikala's return to Tamil Nadu is being keenly watched for political impact as it comes at a time when the assembly elections in the state are to be held in the next few months. She underwent her sentence in the Rs 66.65 crore disproportionate assets case at the Parapana Agrahara central prison in Bengaluru since February, 2017 and was set free on January 27.
However, she remained at the Government Victoria Hospital, where she had been admitted after testing positive for COVID-19 while under judicial custody. She was discharged from the hospital on January 31 after which she stayed at a resort, about 35 km from Bengaluru.
On Monday morning, she left the resort, accompanied by Dhinakaran, also the general secretary of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, in a convoy of around 200 vehicles as her supporters raised slogans hailing her. Before leaving, Sasikala offered floral tributes to a portrait of Jayalalithaa.
Clad in a green colour saree, the favourite hue of Jayalalithaa, and wearing a face mask, she travelled in a car that sported the AIADMK flag over the bonnet, disregarding the warning by the ruling party in Tamil Nadu against its use by non-members. The AIADMK has recently petitioned the Tamil Nadu police seeking to restrain 'non-members' of the party from using its flag after Sasikala travelled in a car sporting the flag on her discharge from a hospital in Bengaluru on January 31.
However, Dhinakaran has defended it, saying she continued to remain the AIADMK general secretary, pointing to petitions pending in court over her 'expulsion'. 'Chinnamma', as she is fondly addressed by her followers, was greeted by a large gathering of people who waved both the AIADMK and AMMK flags as she entered Tamil Nadu.
At several locations along the road to Hosur, welcome arches were erected to greet Sasikala while scores of people turned up to have a glimpse of her. A festive atmosphere gripped the towns in the border district of Krishnagiri in western Tamil Nadu with banners, flex boards, posters and hoardings welcoming Sasikala.
Women holding on their head 'Kalasha' or pitchers decorated with flowers lined up on the roadsides to receive the leader.
Meanwhile, Dhinakaran said many AIADMK functionaries and workers had turned up to welcome his aunt, with the party flags in their hands. "She is travelling in a car that belongs to the AIADMK functionary who came to welcome her. He is there in the car (travelling with her)," he told a Tamil TV channel.
To a question if they were visiting Ramapuram Garden, the residence of Ramachandran, Dhinakaran answered in the affirmative. Sasikala along with her sister-in-law J Ilavarasi and Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son V N Sudhakaran were sentenced to four years imprisonment by the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case.
The assets case was originally filed against Jayalalithaa and the three others for amassment of Rs 66.65 crore assets disproportionate to their known sources of income between 1991 and 1996. The case was later transferred to Bengaluru. While the trial court in Bengaluru convicted all the four, the Karnataka High Court later acquitted them.
The Supreme Court, allowing appeals challenging their acquittals, confirmed and restored the trial court order convicting Sasikala, Illavarasi and Sudhakaran, while abating appeals related to Jayalalithaa in view of her death in December, 2016. Post Jalalithaa's death, Sasikala was elected the AIADMK's interim general secretary and as its legislature party leader in February 2017, paving the way for her elevation as chief minister.
However, with the apex court restoring her conviction in the assets case, she chose her then loyalist K Palaniswami to be the chief minister before proceeding to Bengaluru for serving the sentence. The AIADMK suffered a split with O Panneerselvam, now deputy chief minister, and Palaniswami heading two factions, but they later merged the groups and the general council of the combined party expelled Sasikala in September, 2017 along with Dhinakaran and others.