O Panneerselvam, not a politician known for dramatic flourish, strode centrestage at night into the political theatre that Tamil Nadu is witnessing over a transfer of power to a new Chief Minister. In a dramatic press conference outside J Jayalalithaa’s memorial late in the evening, Mr Panneerselvam claimed he was the successor the former Chief Minister had chosen from her hospital bed and that he had been “forced to resign”. But with an emergency midnight meeting, Ms Sasikala flaunted the number of legislators who supported her. The party, she later said, stands united and Mr Pannerselvam will be expelled.
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Senior AIADMK leader M Thambidurai said 134 of the party’s 135 legislators had attended the meeting with Ms Sasikala at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence, and her oath ceremony for the Chief Minister’s post will be held on Wednesday or Thursday. The “Caretaker Chief Minister” (Mr Panneerselvam) he said, was a “dummy” and a “waste”.
As the meeting ended at 1.15 in the morning, Ms Sasikala emerged to wave to her supporters in Ms Jayalalithaa’s signature green sari and indicated the opposition DMK was responsible for Mr Panneerselvam’s revolt. Mr Panneerselvam has already been removed from the post of the party treasurer — a decision he has argued with, saying Ms Jayalalithaa had given him the post.
Hundreds of supporters had gathered outside Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence, shouting slogans that said Mr Panneerselvam had betrayed the party. Ms Sasikala, 61, draws her power from her indisputable proximity to Ms Jayalalithaa, with whom she lived. When she died, it was Ms Sasikala who performed her last rites.
Undeterred by Ms Sasikala’s show of strength, Mr Pannneerselvam has called another press conference in the morning. “Wait and see what happens,” he told reporters. The AIADMK will hold another meeting of legislators at 10 am.
Mr Panneerselvam had stunned his party with an unexpected visit at 9 pm to the beachside memorial of J Jayalalithaa, where he meditated with eyes closed. Later, he said that Ms Jayalalithaa had told him while she was sick in hospital that she wanted him to serve as Chief Minister “if anything happened to her.”
He also said that he may be persuaded to “withdraw my resignation as Chief Minister if party workers wish”, making it clear that he was in full-fledged conflict with Ms Sasikala, whom the AIADMK selected over the weekend as its new Chief Minister.
After his press conference, Mr Panneerselvam met with his supporters at his home. Hundreds of supporters were seen dancing outside the house in a huge show of support and social media was flooded with tweets and memes that greeted him as “Thalaiva”, meaning “great leader”.
In the morning, Governor Vidyasagar Rao is expected to return to Chennai, where Ms Sasikala is likely to call on him to formally request that she take charge with evidence of her support among legislators.
The Supreme Court will decide next week whether Ms Sasikala had aided Ms Jayalalithaa in amassing a 60-crore fortune illicitly during the early 90s. Their earlier acquittal has been challenged by the Karnataka government. Political opponents have said that the AIADMK should wait till the verdict is delivered before promoting Ms Sasikala to Chief Minister.