As AIADMK MLAs trooped to the Chennai Raj Bhavan for the swearing-in ceremony, one man in the party suddenly found himself alone — only a handful of MPs behind him, and abandoned for the time being even by those in other parties he counted as friends.
Caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who revolted against AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala after she was named leader of its legislature party, had waited for the Supreme Court ruling, confident that her conviction — and it did happen two days ago — would make party MLAs switch loyalties to his camp. But not one crossed over, and his takeover plan collapsed. At least for now.
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As Edappadi Palaniswami was sworn in as Chief Minister, Panneerselvam’s house came under attack, stoned by men suspected to be supporters of the rival camp. In first remarks after the Governor invited Palaniswami to take charge, Panneerselvam thanked his followers and people for their support: “We will win this struggle with the support of Amma’s followers.”
He said his fight against Sasikala and her family will continue. “Let us all together stop the party and government from going into the hands of a single family again. Let us form a people’s government again in sync with the aspirations of people. Till then, this struggle will continue,” he said.
He maintained that “people are agitated” that a government has been formed only on the basis of “number of legislators forcibly confined (at a resort)”. He said the action to install such a government was “without understanding the feelings of the people and party workers”.
What Panneerselvam did not say that he had counted on the BJP and support from the Centre to be Chief Minister again. But on Thursday, the BJP too maintained distance.
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A senior state BJP leader said: “We were hoping things would change on (Sasikala’s) conviction day (February 14). We expected a vertical split in the AIADMK. We thought that he (Panneerselvam) will finally have 50 per cent of the MLAs behind him. That did not happen. The calculations went wrong, his camp failed.”
A day earlier, the BJP leader told The Indian Express that it had already reached out to both warring factions of the AIADMK to “settle the issue and unite”.
“The election of the next President will happen soon. The AIADMK MPs have a crucial role to play,” the leader said, pointing out that the two factions together have 50 MPs in both Houses of Parliament — 12 are with Panneerselvam and 38 with the Sasikala camp.
The BJP, party sources said, wants a “working relationship” with the new leadership of AIADMK. According to a senior party leader, hostility between the two parties would not be in favour of either party, but “a mutual understanding” and “working together would be good for the parties and the state”.
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“The BJP did not have any special soft corner for Panneerselvam. For us, AIADMK as a party is important,” another party leader said.
BJP national general secretary H Raja said: “We never intervened in this crisis. It was purely a crisis in their party. Whatever decisions the Governor took was in consultation with legal advisors. The BJP had no role in it,” he said.
BJP leaders said the party backed Panneerselvam only because he did not have any “baggage” of corruption cases and had public support. His position, they conceded, has now become “untenable”.
“No MLA is ready to face elections at this stage. But there could be cracks in the AIADMK in future. But we have to plan for the near future,” a BJP leader said.
A senior party leader pointed out that the AIADMK leadership would also not like to “spoil” its relationship with the Centre or the party because “central support is essential for smooth functioning of the government and for good governance”.