Quiet Panneerselvam stands up to say no to Sasikala, threatens her takeover plan

Panneerselvam said he was not informed in advance about the legislature party meeting held on Sunday and the decision to elect Sasikala as the leader was communicated to him at the last moment.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai | Updated: February 8, 2017 6:34 pm
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An unprecedented revolt has erupted against AIADMK chief V K Sasikala here after the unassuming Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, never a rebel in his political career, emerged at the Jayalalithaa Memorial on Marina beach on Tuesday night to reveal that his resignation from the Chief Minister’s post on Sunday in favour of Sasikala was “forced” and that he would fight, until his death, for democracy in the party.

According to the version of events he narrated, Panneerselvam said he was not informed in advance about the legislature party meeting held on Sunday and the decision to elect Sasikala as the leader was communicated to him at the last moment.

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“I was busy at the Ennore oil spill. Only when I reached Amma’s house (Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence where Sasikala is staying now), I am told that Chinnamma (Sasikala) is going to be elected as CM. I asked why? They said they want a single power centre. But I asked them why they want to take this decision at a time when the government is dealing with many issues.

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I kept on detailing many reasons for almost two hours as I was not convinced of the decision. But by then, they had collected signatures of MLAs. Finally she (Sasikala) held my hands and asked me to obey the decision, for the party, as she did when she insisted me to take the CM post. I wanted to go and tell Amma (Jayalalithaa’s memorial) that I am resigning. I was denied that option, I was forced to sign the resignation,” said Panneerselvam.

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He added that he would withdraw his resignation if that is the wish of the people — a statement that made it clear that he is preparing, at least for now, for a stand-off.

“I did not reveal these before as I did not want to set a bad precedent in the party’s history. But it is for Amma, for our party and the future of Tamil Nadu, that I am revealing all this before the people now,” he said, adding that the leader should be a person who is acceptable to all people. “Someone who could save the name of the party should lead the party and the government. For these, I will struggle alone,” he said.

His remarks came after around 9 pm when Panneerselvam reached Marina beach, all alone, accompanied by one security vehicle from his residence on Greams Road. By the time news of his arrival at Jayalalithaa Memorial had spread across the city, he sat on the marble floor, eyes closed, deep in prayer.

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As this “meditation” went on for around 40 minutes, reporters and police thronged Marina beach. Finally, when he finished his prayers, he was seen rubbing his eyes, wiping tears, before he prostrated as a mark of respect paid homage to Amma. It was then that he said that the late chief minister’s soul had pushed him to break his silence.

According to sources, he last met Sasikala Monday afternoon. Tuesday he was alone at home — with no visitors and no word from the party.

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“He was completely isolated by Poes Garden. He was not informed about the developments in Delhi or preparations for the swearing-in ceremony. None of the ministers who wield power in the party had contacted him. This forced him to reveal everything tonight,” said a minister close to Panneerselvam.

He said that Panneerselvam would meet the Governor and withdraw his resignation and face a vote of confidence in the House.

Panneerselvam said that although he was reluctant to become the CM after Jayalalithaa’s death, he was pressured to accept the job. But his Cabinet colleagues, he said, began to ask for Sasikala to take over. This embarrassing him and undermined his position, he said. “I did raise this with them, I was told that R B Udayakumar (who first raised the demand) was warned.” But, he said, even leaders who were close to him joined the chorus to demand Sasikala as the next CM.

Reeling off a list of initiatives, Panneerselvam patted himself on the back saying how efficiently his government had handled relief work in Cyclone Vardah as well as the water crisis in the city.

But, he said, he was pained when Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for denying appointments to 50 AIADMK MPs. “He denied them appointment because he agreed to meet me. He met only the CM because the purpose of the visit of both the teams was the same, Jallikattu. When I raised this issue back in Chennai, I was not given an answer,” he said. “I asked her, why was she was insulting me. I was trying to be peaceful and tolerant. I never wanted to create these issues. But I am forced to do this as all these developments were a disgrace to all the sacrifice Amma did for the party despite her illness,” he said.

Earlier in the day, P H Pandian, a former Speaker of state Assembly, and his son Manoj, a party functionary, opposed Sasikala being made the chief minister and alleged foul play in the death of Jayalalithaa.

The AIADMK fielded two of its top leaders Panruti Ramachandran and K A Sengottaiyan at a press conference where they rejected Pandian’s allegations and dubbed him as a “betrayer” who was causing “confusion.”

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