Chennai: Tamil Nadu is set to get its third woman Chief Minister. AIADMK MLAs on Sunday elected General Secretary V.K. Sasikala as their legislature leader, two months after her mentor J. Jayalalithaa died.
The legislators unanimously chose Sasikala, who is not a member of the assembly, for the post. And she lost no time in saying that outgoing Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam himself wanted her to head the government.
Panneerselvam, who had earlier been acting Chief Minister twice, sent his resignation to Sasikala, party sources said.
The main opposition DMK said it was "shocked" that the AIADMK had chosen an administratively inexperienced Sasikala as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, one of India's biggest states.
"People didn't vote for Sasikala," DMK Working President M.K. Stalin said. The DMK said Sunday was a "black day" for Tamil Nadu.
Sasikala said: "Since everyone stressed that one person should hold both the posts - Chief Minister and General Secretary of the party - I agreed."
According to AIADMK sources, Panneerselvam proposed her name and the other MLAs seconded it to show unanimity in the party.
Sasikala belongs to the Thevar community, which has a dominant say in the AIADMK.
Bharatiya Janata Party's Tamil Nadu President Tamilisai Soundararajan agreed that electing Sasikala was the AIADMK MLAs' right but wondered what was the urgency.
Born in 1957 in Thiruthuraipoondi, about 330 km from Chennai, Sasikala was married to M. Natarajan, a Tamil Nadu government official.
In the 1980s, Natarajan urged South Arcot District Collector V.S. Chandralekha to introduce Sasikala to Jayalalithaa so that the then AIADMK Propaganda Secretary would get due publicity.
With Jayalalithaa finding Sasikala's work satisfactory, they became friends. After a while, Sasikala moved into the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa in Chennai.
Sasikala used to accompany Jayalalithaa on her trips, often seated behind the charismatic actor-turned-AIADMK leader.
Jayalalithaa publicly called Sasikala a sister not related by blood.
But despite their closeness, Sasikala maintained a low profile publicly although she was actively involved in managing the party affairs.
Their relationship turned sour in 2011 and Jayalalithaa told Sasikala and her family members to leave her residence. But they patched up later, ensuring Sasikala's return to the AIADMK.
Supporters of Sasikala point out that she assisted Jayalalithaa in the party affairs - and was with her during her tough times.
Earlier on Sunday, Panneerselvam and other ministers met Sasikala at the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa where Sasikala continues to live.
Days earlier, Sasikala named to various party posts some ex-ministers and others who had been earlier shunted out by Jayalalithaa.
She also reached out to those seen as a threat to her and placated them before becoming the party General Secretary.
Milk and Dairy Development Minister K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji said: "Now a brave Tamil woman will be the Chief Minister. Can't a Tamil woman become Chief Minister?"
Tamil Nadu's first woman Chief Minister was Janaki Ramachandran, the widow of the late M.G. Ramachandran, the AIADMK founder. She was in office only for a brief period.
She was succeeded by Jayalalithaa, who in May last year led the AIADMK to another victory in assembly elections.
Like Jayalalithaa, Sasikala too has faced corruption charges. The Supreme Court is yet to deliver a ruling in the disproportionate assets case. If it goes against her, it will be a blow to her and the AIADMK.