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Panneerselvam: From Slave to Valkyrie

Aishik Purkait

On the 6th of February after coming out of the late Jayalalithaa’s memorial, he said that he was forced to resign from his position as the Chief minister and was quoted saying, ”Amma’s  ‘atma’ is alive; she is guiding us in spirit.”. This was followed by O Pandian ‘s press conference voicing his support for  O. Panneerselvam. A petition on supporting him garnered over a million signatures. Social media went abuzz with the hashtag  #NotMyCm  directed at Sasikala,  supporting his case. The battle over the throne between him and Chinnamma caught the attention of the entire country with all the national news channels running day long coverage on this issue.

Born in Tamil Nadu’s Periyakulam town in Theni district on January 1951,  O. Panneerselvam  started  as a tea stall owner. A graduate  from  Haji Karutha Ravuthar Kavuthiya Arts College, Panneerselvam started off his political career initially in the DMK and later shifted to the AIADMK (All India Anna  Dravida Munnetra  Kazhagham). His first political achievement was his victory in the Periyakulum municipal elections in 1996. He first contested from an AIADMK ticket in th year  2001 and won the elections. He later went on to hold several other important portfolios in the government. Panneerselvam went on to become the Revenue Minister from the 19th of  May 2001 to 1st September 2001. This is when Panneerselvam  had his first stint as CM after J Jayalalithaa was convicted in the TANSI land scam case and the Supreme Court disqualified her nomination for the election and barred her from becoming the Chief Minister. This was the time when Panneerselvam ascended to power in the party and in Tamil Nadu politics. He became the Chief Minister in Jayalalithaa’s absence from 21st September 2001 to March 2002.

Panneerselvam’s role can very well be compared to that of Bharat in Ramayana. Even after his blackballing, Bharat chose to rule in Rama’s name for 14 years  but never sat on the throne and was all courteous towards Rama. Panneerselvam was the humble, staunch Amma loyalist who was given the post of Chief Minister and was asked to take care of the party and the state in her, and her close aide Sasikala’s  absence. He lived up to his responsibilities and was more than happy to play to her tunes.

The Madras High Court’s decision for lack of evidence in the TANSI case. The second time was when Amma was convicted by the Karnataka High Court in the disproportionate assets case in May 2015. Panneerselvam always had the clean public  image in his party and in Tamil Nadu politics, devoid of any  major allegations against him. It was easy for J Jayalalithaa to use his unblemished public image to rule Tamil Nadu even though she did not have any power.

After Panneerselvam handed over his resignation for the second time after the disproportionate assests case , social media went abuzz with the comparison between him and Jeetan Ram Manjhi. However, in Manjhi’s case , he was not happy to hand over his resignation which led to a huge feud in the party. Manjhi later went on to form his own party and fought the elections in Bihar in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

After J Jayalalithaa’s demise , O Panneerselvam became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the third  time. A couple of days later on the  6th of February , Panneerselvam resigned from the Chief Ministerial position, this time making way for Jayalalithaa’s aide , Sasikala Natarajan, more popularly known as Chinnamma. News reports suggested that the party decided that it was inconvenient for them to have alternate power centres in the form of Chinnamma as the party supremo and Panneerselvam as the Chief Minister. This however did not go down well with the opposition and members within the party.

 The DMK led by M K Stalin staged a protest over Chinnamma taking over the Chief Ministerial position as she was inexperienced in governance and was not even an elected member. However, this  did not change Sasikala’s decision and the only hurdle in front of her was to prove her majority in the house of the legislative assembly  and to win the  by-elections. Her opposition , especially in favour of Panneerselvam both within and outside called it criminalization of politics. She was convicted by the trial court in the disproportionate assets case along with Jayalalithaa and two others. The  Supreme Court was supposed to deliver its verdict in a week’s time. As I write this article , Sasikala Natarajan has been convicted by the Supreme Court and sentenced to four years of imprisonment.  Edappi Palaniswamy  has taken oath as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Soon after the resignation of Panneerselvam, social media went abuzz with the hash tags #NotmyCM and #TNSaysNo2Sasi#TNSaysNo2Sasi#. Surely, the mandate of the people was not in favour of Chinnamma to take over  as the CM. Followed by this, an online petition on  against Chinnamma garnered close to 19,000 signatures in a very short time giving the initial momentum to the movement against her. The people of Tamil Nadu came out in the open to voice their disagreement and the MLA’s within the party were  divided.

On the 6th of February, after visiting the Jayalalithaa’s  memorial , Panneerselvam came out and held a press conference. He openly revolted against Chinnamma , The Economic Times quoted him as saying ”If the people want, if the cadres want, if the legislators want , I will withdraw my resignation. ”

Senior AIADMK leader Pandian called for a press conference openly voicing his support for Panneerselvam. Other leaders like Sasikala Pushpa joined the bandwagon.

As of latest news reports, Palaniswamy has taken oath as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu but is still yet to prove his majority in the floor of the assembly. The crisis in Tamil Nadu is similar to that of the situation after Lalu Prasad Yadav was convicted by the apex court following the fodder scam with Rabri Devi taking over the reins of Lalu as he was barred from contesting elections. Rabri  won with a majority and was also successful in proving a majority in the house of the assembly.

Palaniswamy is yet to prove his majority in the floor of the assembly and he stands on shaky grounds. The coming months are indicative of tumultuous times in Tamil Nadu.

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