Hours after AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala was convicted and ordered to return to jail to serve the remainder of her four-year term in a disproportionate assets case, party MLAs elected PWD minister Edappadi K Palanisamy as leader of the legislature party in Sasikala’s presence at the resort outside Chennai where they have been holed up for five days.
Palanisamy met Governor C Vidyasagar Rao with some senior leaders and ministers, presented a list of MLAs and staked his claim to form the government. After Palanisamy left Raj Bhavan, some AIADMK leaders from the rival camp of caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam met the Governor.
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A day earlier, the Madras High Court was informed by the state public prosecutor that 119 AIADMK MLAs were staying in the resort on their own volition.
All eyes are now on Raj Bhavan in Chennai. Governor Rao, it is learnt, will rely on recommendations of three legal experts while initiating moves for government formation in the state. In his report to the Centre on February 12, the Governor, communicating details of the political situation in the state, conveyed that he had taken legal opinion from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, former Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran and constitutional expert Soli Sorabjee.
Two of the three experts suggested that a composite floor test like the one conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 could be done in Tamil Nadu, a Home Ministry official said, citing the Governor’s report. In 1998, the Supreme Court ordered a floor test in the Uttar Pradesh assembly to determine who between the two claimants, Jagdambika Pal and Kalyan Singh, commanded the majority support for chief ministership.
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It is learnt that Sorabjee said the floor test should not be delayed and the maximum waiting period should be a week and the leader who commands the largest number of MLAs should be sworn-in. “The Governor is expected to take a decision on the basis of the suggestions given by the three legal experts,” the official said.
Palanisamy, 63, a science graduate who became MLA at the age of 35 started his political career in 1989, a year that also saw the emergence of Jayalalithaa as a powerful leader after M G Ramachandran’s death.
Being the Minister for Public Works Department and Highways, he ensured that several road and highway projects benefit the entire Salem district and his own Edappadi constituency.
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“He was a staunch loyalist of Jayalalithaa. When Sasikala was expelled from the party in 2011, he was the man handpicked by Jayalalithaa for the key post of party treasurer. But even then also, unlike P H Pandian or K P Munusamy (both are in the Panneerselvam camp) he never criticised Sasikala,” said a senior AIADMK leader.
Edappadi lies in the Kongu belt of Tamil Nadu, a powerful bastion of the Gounder community and the AIADMK. After Panneerselvam’s rebellion last week, his name did the rounds as the leader most expected to step in if Sasikala were convicted. There were many names for her successor: T T V Dinakaran, nephew of Sasikala; veteran leader K A Sengottaiyan and M Thambidurai, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker. But it was Palanisamy who was chosen by Sasikala as the most “convenient candidate.”
Those who know him well say he has a short temper and, unlike Panneerselvam, is more “blunt and matter-of-fact” in his dealings within the party. “He is not very dissimilar to Jayalalithaa when it comes to the style of functioning. He is more concerned about getting a job done than worry about his own image,” said a senior AIADMK leader.