The suspense and uncertainty that had engulfed Tamil Nadu ever since V.K. Sasikala replaced O. Panneerselvam as the AIADMK legislature party leader and presented herself as the prospective chief minister two weeks ago has ended for now with the swearing in of Edappadi K. Palaniswami. Palaniswami has submitted a list of 124 MLAs to the governor and he has been given 15 days to prove majority on the floor of the House. Law and custom call for the leader of the largest party in the legislature to be given the first chance to prove majority on the floor of the House within a stipulated time. Though Palaniswami’s claim has been contested by Panneerselvam, the office of the governor would have come further under a cloud if Rao had delayed appointing Palaniswami to the CM’s post.
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For Palaniswami, however, the battle has only just begun. He takes over as CM when Tamil Nadu seems to be on the edge, as the Jallikattu protests in January revealed. If the state seems unsettled, with old chasms opening up again, the ruling party appears internally unstable too. The extended hospitalisation and death of J. Jayalalithaa created a political vacuum and a crisis in leadership. Sasikala’s attempt to replace Panneerselvam and become chief minister did not succeed due to the latter’s rebellion followed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the disproportionate assets case. The spectacle of MLAs being ferried to a private resort to prevent “poaching” by the rival faction and the crossovers since have revealed that the AIADMK is a divided house with no binding force to keep it united. Palaniswami will need to keep his flock together and ensure that the rumblings within the party do not derail governance.
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Tamil Nadu has long been served by an efficient bureaucracy, which has insulated administrative work from political upheaval. Now, however, two successive droughts, lack of jobs and stagnation in industrial growth have caused enormous strain on the state’s social fabric. The new chief minister will need the backing of his party if he has to deliver on the challenges ahead. However, Sasikala’s move to appoint her nephew, T.T.V. Dinakaran, as the party’s deputy general secretary is an indication that she wants her family to be in control of party affairs. Dinakaran’s return could mark a lost opportunity for the party to democratise itself. It will be Palaniswami’s task to ensure that it does not portend more instability in the ruling party that would eventually constrain its government.