Chennai/New Delhi: In a series of dramatic developments Tuesday night, O. Panneerselvam, the caretaker chief minister of Tamil Nadu who resigned last week to make way for V.K. Sasikala, unfurled the banner of revolt against the AIADMK general secretary and declared that he would reconsider his resignation if the “party cadre and people” wanted him to continue running the state.
Panneerselvam spoke to reporters soon after visiting the memorial to his mentor the late J. Jayalalithaa at Marina beach, where he sat in tearful repose for half an hour.
As crowds of supporters gathered around him and at his residence, a larger show of strength got underway at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence where Sasikala, or ‘chinnamma’ as AIADMK cadres call her, is ensconced.
Shortly after midnight, it emerged that nearly all of the party’s 134 MLAs had answered her summons. The senior MP M. Thambidurai, who is deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, was also present. The party then announced the sacking of Panneerselvam from the position of AIADMK treasurer.
Speaking to reporters, the chief minister said that he had been appointed by his leader Jayallaithaa and no one else had the right to remove him. He also rejected Sasikala’s claims that the opposition DMK was behind his late night revolt.
He said his next course of action would “reflect” the “aspirations” of AIADMK cadres and people of Tamil Nadu.
“No one has the right to remove me from the post of treasurer which was given to me by Amma 10 years ago,” he told reporters.
Panneerselvam said he had discharged his duties as party treasurer to the satisfaction of Jayalalithaa. “I have the fulfilment that I have done my job as treasurer fully to the satisfaction of Amma.”
On Sasikala’s charge that the DMK was behind him as he was all along smiling at the leader of the opposition in the Tamil Nadu assembly M.K. Stalin, he said “only humans can laugh and smiling at people cannot be a crime.”
Asked if the AIADMK chief had charged him with association with DMK as she could not find any other allegation, he quoted a Tamil proverb, the meaning of which is “I have nothing and no one to fear as I have done no wrong.”
Panneerselvam also said, “I am a grassroot-level ordinary party worker.”
Asked if he would launch a new party and if he would call on governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, he said “please wait and see.”
On her part, Sasikala asserted that all the party’s MLAs were with her and hence there is “no problem” in her becoming the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
“All the MLAs are there like a single family, so there is no problem,” she told reporters here early on Wednesday morning.
This was Sasikala’s very first interaction with journalists at an impromptu press meet in front of her residence at around 1.15 AM.
Though she had addressed party leaders and MLAs after taking over as party chief in December last, this was her first interaction with journalists.
Asked if Panneerselvam, who was removed from the post of party treasurer, would also be removed from AIADMK’s primary membership, she asserted, “for sure, we will do it.”
When asked if she thought that her swearing-in was being delayed by the governor though she has been elected leader of the legislature party, she shot back “I feel the same what you feel.”
In reply to another question, she said “DMK is behind Panneerselvam…The reason is that in the recent assembly session the chief minister and leader of opposition were looking at each other and laughing together.”
She denied Panneerselvam’s charge that he was coerced to resign, saying “he was saying what he was told.”
Sasikala waved the AIADMK two leaves symbol to party supporters gathered outside the residence, smiled, quickly completed the press meet and went back inside.
Earlier, Stalin said Panneerselvam’s statement that he was coerced to quit was shocking and added that his party may seek convening of the assembly.
“In Tamil Nadu, a situation of a virtual absence of government has arisen, that Sasikala has not at all allowed Panneerselvam to function has become very clear from the utterances of the chief minister,” Stalin said.
BJP leader H. Raja said the governor has many options now. “He can check if the signatures affixed by MLAs voicing support for Sasikala was out of their own volition.”
He also said that the legality of Panneerselvam’s resignation has come under a cloud.
Former Union minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss tweeted “Request TN Governor to hear each and every MLA’s consensus individually before appointing the next CM of TN.
Request TN Governor to hear each and every MLA's consensus individually before appointing the next CM of TN
— Dr ANBUMANI RAMADOSS (@draramadoss) February 7, 2017
With more than four years to go till the next election, most political observers do not expect the AIADMK MLAs to desert Sasikala and side with Panneerselvam. Though she is unpopular with the party rank and file, many MLAs owe their selection to her, as she handled ticket distribution for Jayalalithaa.
With inputs from PTI