A day after a Bangalore special court convicted J Jayalalithaa in a disproportionate assets case, an AIADMK legislature party meeting on Sunday unanimously elected O Panneerselvam as the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Panneerselvam, who met Governor K Rosaiah in the evening, is set to be sworn in on Monday at 11 am.
The meeting of the AIADMK MLAs was called after Panneerselvam, who holds the finance and public works portfolios, and other senior party ministers met Jayalalithaa at the Bangalore Parappana Agrahara prison in the morning.
Meanwhile, a senior party leader said they would file a bail petition in the Karnataka High Court on Monday. “We hope that it will be listed for hearing at least on Tuesday by a vacation bench,” he said.
Clad in a white sari inside Cell No 7402 on Sunday, Jayalalithaa was reportedly visited by six top officers of the state government, including DGP (Intelligence) Ashok Kumar and Special Advisor and former Chief Secretary Sheela Balakrishnan. Sources said senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani may be roped in to fight her case in higher courts.
According to party insiders, Panneerselvam was unanimously elected as the Chief Minister. “He is firm and serious with us, and very loyal to Amma. He deserves it,” said a senior MLA. Many senior leaders pointed out that he had been loyal to Jayalalithaa since the early ‘90s.
In September 2001 too, Panneerselvam was made Chief Minister for a brief period as Jayalalithaa had to step down after the Supreme Court pronounced her guilty of criminal offence.
In political circles, Panneerselvam is known as the reluctant Chief Minister. During his earlier stint in 2001, he chose not to sit in Jayalalithaa’s chair at the Chief Minister’s Office and did not clear crucial files. “He chose a vistor’s chair at Fort St. George (where the state secretariat is housed) when he was appointed as the CM in September 2001 as a stopgap arrangement,” said a former AIADMK minister.
Like in 2001, Panneerselvam’s oath-taking ceremony is likely to be a low-profile event. The legislature party meeting on Sunday already set the tone, as it selected the new Chief Minister without any fanfare. Top leaders and supporters were careful not to indulge in any happy gestures or even the distribution of sweets and garlands. An AIADMK leader said many were nearly in tears when Panneerselvam’s name was announced.
Hailing from Periyakulam near Theni in south Tamil Nadu, Panneerselvam, 63, owned a tea shop and dairy farm before entering active politics in 1996. “He was the first CM from Thevar community. He is a party card holding member since 1972,” said a senior MLA close to him. “After MGR’s death, we were all in the Janaki camp — the faction led by MGR’s wife. Later we joined Jayalalithaa,” he said.