CHENNAI:Keeping a seat for J Jayalalithaa, who died earlier this month, Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK decided in a meeting today to hand over the party's leadership to her closest friend Sasikala Natarajan.
On January 2, the 54-year-old will formally take over as AIADMK general secretary, a post held by Ms Jayalalithaa till she died on December 5. On cue, the solo Jayalalithaa banner outside the party office was replaced by one showing the former Chief Minister presenting flowers to Ms Natarajan. Slogans of "Long live Chinamma (mother's younger sister)" were shouted.
"Like we saw MGR (MG Ramachandran, AIADMK founder) in Jayalalithaa, we see Jayalalithaa in Sasikala," said Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, whose place in the party's power structure after Ms Natarajan's elevation has been widely speculated.
Soon after the meeting, Mr Panneerselvam and other party leaders headed to the palatial home in Poes Garden that Ms Jayalalithaa shared with Ms Natarajan, a former video store owner. They later said she had accepted all the decisions taken at the meeting.
'Sasikala has said she will follow in Jayalalithaa's footsteps," said Mr Panneerselvam, who was sworn in as Chief Minister hours after Ms Jayalalithaa's death was declared.
Ms Natarajan's takeover as AIADMK chief was announced by party leaders as a given even though she is not technically qualified; the general secretary has to have completed five years as an active member.
Mr Panneerselvam is the first Chief Minister from AIADMK who will not be the general secretary of the party. It became a tradition as Ms Jayalalithaa held both posts, unchallenged.
Ms Natarajan was kept away from party and government functioning by Ms Jayalalithaa while she was alive, but her considerable influence over key decisions is well-known.
As lakhs paid tribute to their "Amma" after her death, Ms Natarajan emerged as a strong presence by her side, exuding power as top party leaders, including Mr Panneerselvam, retreated to the sidelines.
Sources say Mr Panneerselvam wants to serve out his term and the BJP, which rules at the centre, too has openly said it backs the man elected by the AIADMK's legislators as chief minister.