Sasikala Natarajan, AIADMK's new Chief Minister
Sasikala Natarajan, AIADMK’s new Chief Minister

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu is slated to have another female chief minister, two months after the death of iconic politician Jayalalithaa Jayaram.

The ruling AIADMK party said Sasikala Natarajan would become the next chief minister following the resignation of the acting chief minister.

Natarajan, once a close confidante of Jayalaitha, was named general secretary of the party after her death. Her ascension to chief minister has been anticipated ever since. “She is the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Like Amma (mother), we wanted a strong woman leader to serve the people,” party spokesperson CR Saraswathi told AFP news agency.

O Panneerselvam, who had been filling in as chief minister since October when Jayalalitha was hospitalised, said he stepped down for “personal reasons.”

However, Tamil Nadu’s main opposition party has criticized the decision, saying no Indian voted for Natarajan to be chief minister. “The people of Tamil Nadu did not vote for anyone from Jayalalitha’s household to become CM,” opposition leader MK Stalin tweeted.

For nearly 30 years, Natarajan, known as Chinnamma (younger mother) to her supporters, had been an almost permanent fixture whenever Jayalaitha stepped in front of a camera, or delivered a speech. She was never given a formal role in the state party or government by Jayalaitha, instead she worked as the chief minister’s most trusted aide and confidante.

Analysts say she was able to exploit this for political gain, allowing her and her extended family to heavily influence the party and government.

Sasikala’s influence over Jayalalitha once became a hot topic in India’s tabloid magazines, especially when the duo faced corruption charges. However, a Karnataka high court order in 2015 cleared them of involvement in a corruption scandal, paving the way for Jayalalitha’s return to power after a setback in September 2014 when a trial court found them guilty of corruption.

India’s Supreme Court has heard an appeal in the case, and is expected to issue a verdict next week.