Exactly two months after the death of her mentor J Jayalalithaa, AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala was unanimously elected leader of the AIADMK legislature party, paving the way for her to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Party sources said she was likely to be sworn in on Tuesday or Thursday.
At a meeting of AIADMK MLAs Sunday, Sasikala’s name as leader of the legislature party was proposed by Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.
He later said he was resigning and Sasikala would lead the party and the government. In a letter to the Governor, he cited “personal reasons” to resign from the post.
The MLAs met after Sasikala and senior party leaders held a meeting at the Poes Garden residence of the late Jayalalithaa — Sasikala, who is called Chinnamma by party cadres, has been staying there ever since Amma’s death on December 5. In a series of tweets, the AIADMK quoted Sasikala as saying: “It was Thiru O Panneerselvam who insisted first that I become the Chief Minister… Tamil Nadu government will follow the principles of Amma.” The party also said: “Respected Chinnamma assures that the Tamil Nadu government will always work towards the welfare of the people.”
(A PTI report said Sasikala told MLAs that these developments were “shattering the expectation of our political opponents that there will be a split in the party after the demise of our Amma”. She had a special word of praise for Panneerselvam, saying “whenever the party faced tough times and whenever there were difficulties in Amma becoming Chief Minister, it was our dear brother Panneerselvam who had been loyal”.)
To the party, Sasikala’s elevation to the post of Chief Minister was a foregone conclusion. “It had to happen. There was always the view that the party head and the Chief Minister should be the same person. Panneerselvam has resigned and he will serve as Deputy Chief Minister under Chinnamma,” an AIADMK leader said.
A senior official said the process to effect the change of guard is already underway. The Chief Minister’s Office, the official said, is preparing to call a conference of all district collectors and police chiefs.
“Changes are being discussed in portfolios of top secretaries, IAS and IPS officers. All pending promotions will be cleared soon. The first major challenge is to deal with the water crisis resulting from the drought-like situation,” the official said, recalling that Jayalalithaa faced a similar situation — that of power crisis — when she won the election in 2011.
Sources said Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanthan may be retained though the name of Finance Secretary K Shanmugam for the post has been doing the rounds. State intelligence chief K N Sathyamurthy and Chennai city police commissioner S George may be shifted — Sathyamurthy has proceeded on leave and George has drawn flak for the police handling of the Jallikattu protests in Chennai last month.
Also expected is a decision to reduce the number of TASMAC (state-run liquor shops) shops in the state — a promise made in the run-up to the last assembly elections. “She will soon start meeting cadres in districts and rural areas. She will follow the path of Jayalalithaa,” the official said.
Sasikala will be the third woman chief minister of the state after MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa. From the politically powerful Thevar community, she hails from Mannargudi in Thiruvarur district near Thanjavur — DMK leader M Karunanidhi represents Thiruvarur constituency in the assembly.
PTI adds: Reacting to the development, DMK working president and Leader of Opposition M K Stalin said the elevation of Sasikala was against the “wishes” of both Jayalalithaa and “expectations of the people”. However, CPM state secretary G Ramakrishnan greeted Sasikala on her elevation. “I believe she will factor in people’s opinions on this change,” he said in a statement.