Ms Shashikala Natarajan, Trusted lieutenant of Amma, will steer AIADMK

   In photographs tweeted by the ruling AIAMDK today, Sasikala Natarajan bears shades of  "Amma" as she greets party workers with hands folded at the Poes Garden residence in Chennai that she shared for many years with former chief minister J Jayalalithaa.  

    The party workers are in single file, also with folded hands, much in the way they did before Ms Jayalalithaa, who died last week leaving a gaping hole in the leadership of the AIADMK. The party has requested Ms Natarajan, her long-time companion, to fill that space. 

    "AIADMK party functionaries from various districts today urged Thirumathi.V.K.Sasikala to lead the party on the path shown by Honourable Amma," the party tweeted with the photographs.

    Jayalalithaa was called Amma or mother by her party's workers and millions of fans. AIADMK workers refer to Sasikala Natarajan as "Chinnamma" or little mother. On the weekend, O Panneerselvam, who was sworn in as Tamil Nadu chief minister hours after Ms Jayalalithaa died last week at Chennai's Apollo Hospital, said, "Like Amma, Chinnamma knows each and every party worker. To ensure continuance of the party's functioning... the only way out... is for Chinnamma to become the general secretary and lead the party."
    Some in the party, which Ms Jayalalithaa led for 27 years as the sole, unchallenged leader and decision-maker, have suggested that a special post be created for Ms Natarajan, so that "Amma" can remain the permanent general secretary. The post of additional general secretary has been suggested and the party's general council will decide on that at a meeting soon. 

    "We will elect a capable person who takes care of the cadres and follows Amma's footsteps," said party spokesperson C Ponnaiyan. By talking about Ms Natarajan's "calibre," the party has made it clear that she fits the bill. 

    For years Ms Natarajan lived in the shadows, deliberately kept away from active party politics and the government by Ms Jayalalithaa. But in the hours after she died, it became clear that her closest aide would play an important role in steering the party here on. 

    While the AIADMK has absolutely rejected reports of a midnight coup by Ms Natarajan to ensure that Mr Panneerselvam was elected to lead the ruling party in the Assembly and swiftly sworn in chief minister, Ms Natarajan's was a dominating presence as Ms Jayalalithaa's body lay in state and later at the funeral. She also performed the last rites at the Marina Beach where Ms Jayalalithaa has been buried beside her mentor MGR. 

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