NOTHING ILLUSTRATES the uncertainty and power vacuum in Chennai better than the fact that when acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam reached the Jayalalithaa Memorial at Marina beach on Tuesday night, the city police were taken by surprise.
And as Tamil Nadu entered a political twilight zone near midnight, the big question doing the rounds was this: what next?
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The Panneerselvam camp was confident of backing from a majority of the AIADMK’s 134 MLAs and claimed that at least 20 had already conveyed their support. Members of the V K Sasikala camp were silent, as they scrambled to rescue the party from an imminent split.
While Law Minister C V Shanmugham was the first big name to reach Panneerselvam’s house, Sasikala, who was all set to be sworn in as Chief Minister this week, summoned a majority of the ministers to her Poes Garden residence
Sources in the assembly said there may be two options left before Governor C Vidyasagar Rao: allow Panneerselvam to withdraw his resignation and go for a vote of confidence or summon all party MLAs to Raj Bhawan and ascertain the majority view.
“We are trying to figure out the legal hurdles to the process of withdrawing the resignation since Panneerselvam had himself proposed the name of Sasikala for the legislature party leader’s post,” said sources.
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However, a senior jurist said, “If the Centre is favourable to such a move, the Governor will return the resignation considering the extraordinary situation. There will be a vote of confidence in which the Panneerselvam will have to prove his majority with at least 118 MLAs for a three-fourth majority.”
Sources said the BJP is likely to grab the opportunity and retain a “favourable” chief minister as the party is convinced that Sasikala’s husband M Natarajan has struck a deal with the Congress.
“Almost all ministers are with the Sasikala camp now. But the situation is expected to change by tomorrow morning, and a majority of ministers and MLAs may support Panneerselvam, considering the public sentiment,” said a senior Intelligence official.
“Technically, we still consider Panneerselvam as Chief Minister. Still, we have to be careful as any move seen as biased will backfire,” he said.
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At the ground level, district functionaries of the AIADMK in Sivaganga, Madurai, Coimbatore and Theni said they would burn effigies of Sasikala Wednesday as a mark of protest. “We have already placed orders for digital banners of OPS (Panneerselvam). We will remove all posters of Sasikala, and erect OPS banners and posters tomorrow,” said a leader. All digital printing presses in these districts will be running through the night to print the posters, he said.
Intelligence and party sources said a majority of MLAs and ministers have no other option but to support Panneerselvam, considering the public mood. Late at night, rebel leaders, including K P Munusamy, were among those who reached Pannerselvam’s house to congratulate him for his “daring decision” to take on Sasikala.