The last few days witnessed a lot of drama unfold in Tamil Nadu's political landscape. With the SC convicting Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case, it was Panneerselvam who came out as a winner of sorts in the slugfest between the two political heavyweights.
Let us give it to him. The hour, at least in Tamil Nadu, belongs to Panneerselvam. The caretaker TN Chief Minister has finally staged the coup no one thought he was capable of. Certainly not Sasikala.
In a party dominated by a sorority of heavyweights (Sasikala Pushpa, Sasikala “Chinnamma” Natarajan and the redoubtable Amma herself), Panneer has always made the picture of quiet subservience. The genial giant had donned the mantle of Chief Minister twice; each time his mentor had faced some problem or the other.
On the last occasion in 2016, his oath taking was marked by such lachrymal overflow as to earn him the sobriquet “Kanneerselvan” - Kanneer being “tears” in Tamil. Both times, Panneerselvam had promptly relinquished the position once his mentor had been cleared off the charges and ready for the role.
That is the kind of seat warming loyalty that had earned him Amma’s trust who, in turn, had rewarded him with growth and recognition. Jayalalithaa’s blessings had paved his way from the backwaters of Bodinayakannur in Theni district to the plush corridors of Assembly in Chennai.
Paneer’s rise within the ranks of AIADMK mirrors the topsy turvy nature of Tamilnadu politics. In the chaos that followed MGR’s demise in 1988, as a war of succession broke out between his widow, Janaki Ramchandran and Jayalalithaa, Panneer had initially aligned his fortunes with the former camp.
In the ensuing election he had supported his future mentor’s rival. The Janaki challenge however dissipated soon and in a stroke only fate could explain OPS found himself in the good books of the freshly anointed AIADMK supremo.
The media is making much of their purported bonhomie these days, but it is generally forgotten that before they left for the headier brew of politics both Panneer and Modi had started their lives with that elixir of the common masses tea.
With his friend Vijayan he had set up the PV Canteen in his home town. The canteen survives till this day and apparently enjoys an excellent local reputation for serving quality Theni tea. In a twist of fate that can only be turned ironic under the circumstances, his erstwhile partner now competes with him with a canteen of his own. Friends turning into rivals is not the exclusive preserve of the arena of politics.
The event of last few days had revealed a new side of the Thevar leader. In the first week of February, the media went to a tizzy when it was revealed that Panneer was planning to hand over the reins of the state to Chinnamma. When asked by a reporter on TV, OPS responded with his trademark smile of mystery.
The media speculation however turned out to be true when the caretaker CM tendered his resignation with the same air of submission which had come to characterize most of his actions. The Sasikala camp declared that Panneer had “requested” her to take over as the next CM.
The intervening events are still unclear. But two days later the nation was watching with bated breath as Panneer took to a half an hour long meditation at the Jayalalitha memorial on Marina beach. And followed up with a bombshell. In a monologue that stunned the nation, OPS debunked Sasikala’s claim and informed that he had indeed been coerced to resign from his post. And yes, he wanted to fight to retain his position.
This was cowboy stuff. To use a metaphor from bull fighting (the memory of Jallikattu is still fresh); the reluctant matador had finally entered the ring. Only the bull had almost bolted.
His resignation was already with the governor and Sasikala claimed the support of 130 of the 136 MLAs AIADMK had in the assembly. She wasted no time in calling him a betrayer. She also spirited away the precious MLAs to a Mahabalipuram resort.
Help, however arrived from unexpected quarters. Luminaries of the film fraternity, a very influential group in Tamil politics have announced their support for the embattled warrior.
As things stand today, the fracas in Tamil Nadu are showing no signs of quelling. The Supreme Court has found Sasikala guilty on a ten year old disproportionate asset case and has ordered her to serve a jail term. The lady has used her position as General Secretary to expel the challenger from the party. Probably she would place a confidante in the chair till she finishes her time in jail and is ready to assume power.
That would mean she now has to find her own Panneer. As in Alice in Wonderland, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” As per the original, one has to wait and see.
Disclaimer: The article presents the personal views of the author on the recent events that engulfed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu