WITH Tamil Nadu Governor C Vidyasagar Rao yet to take a decision in the high-stakes power tussle in the state, AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala sounded a not-so-veiled warning: “We can be patient only for a while, beyond that we will do whatever is necessary.” On Saturday, two days after she met Governor Rao with her list of MLAs, Sasikala sent another letter to Raj Bhavan, seeking an appointment for her and her MLAs so that she could parade them before the Governor in a show of strength.
Addressing supporters at the Poes Garden residence of the late J Jayalalithaa, where Sasikala continues to live, she said, “We thought we should be fair and democratic in decisions… No one can harm me when 1.5 crore cadres of the party are behind me. They are the party, they are everything to me. It is my responsibility to protect them and the party. As India’s third largest party (the AIADMK has 50 MPs in Parliament) is in trouble, Amma is here with us, showing us who the traitors are. I have the support of the entire party… why should I be scared?”
Later, she said, the delay in the Governor’s decision was giving rise to speculation that it was all “a ploy to split the party”. “We have waited so far for the Governor’s reply but from tomorrow, we will protest in a different way,” she said.
Sasikala’s reaction came on a day education minister M Pandiarajan and four MPs left her camp and crossed over to the other side. Pandiarajan, the first minister to leave the Sasikala camp, had called caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam an “opportunist” after his revolt. On Saturday, however, he said: “I will surely listen to the collective voice of my voters and uphold the dignity of Amma’s memory and unity of AIADMK.”
Senior AIADMK leader K A Sengottaiyan, who is in the Sasikala camp, told reporters that they would wait until Sunday morning for an appointment with the Governor “before taking the next decision”. Many in this camp see the Governor’s delay in taking a decision as an effort to thwart her plans of becoming CM.
Sources close to Raj Bhavan said Governor Rao was likely to decide by Tuesday or Wednesday, when the Supreme Court is expected to deliver the final verdict in the disproportionate assets case, in which Sasikala is an accused. “His primary concern is to form a stable government,” said the source, adding that he is unlikely to respond to Sasikala’s request for an immediate appointment.
Sources close to Panneerselam said they expect 25 per cent of the MLAs to join him by Tuesday. However, four days after his revolt at the Jayalalithaa Memorial at Marina Beach, Panneerselvam hadn’t got too many legislators on his side. Currently, he has the support of five MPs out of 50, including senior leader V Maitreyan (Rajya Sabha), and six MLAs. The MPs who joined the Panneerselvam camp on Saturday were P R Sundaram (Namakkal), Ashok Kumar (Krishnagiri), R Vanaroja (Tiruvannamalai) and V Satyabhama (Tiruppur).
Among the other leaders with Panneerselvam are party presidium chairman C Madhusudhanan, who joined him on Friday; veteran leader C Ponnaiyan, who dropped in at the caretaker CM’s residence on Greenways Road on Saturday; and Natham Viswanathan, former power minister who had a fallout with Jayalalithaa and who is under the EC radar for his alleged proximity to Parasmal Lodha, a businessman accused of money laundering.
On Saturday evening, after writing her letter to Governor Rao, Sasikala visited the MLAs at the Golden Bay beach resort at Kuvathur near Mahabalipuram to talk to them about the party’s “next course of action”.
Early in the morning, a team of police and revenue officials conducted a door-to-door inquiry at the Kuvathur resort. The police move followed the Governor’s order to look into Panneerselvam’s complaints that the police had failed to give protection to MLAs when they were allegedly “abducted” by the Sasikala camp after a party meeting on Wednesday.
A senior AIADMK leader close to Sasikala said that while ministers couldn’t be stopped from moving around, they were trying to keep the MLAs together. “All MLAs remain with us in two resorts. In case Chinnamma (Sasikala) faces a setback in the SC, Edappadi Palanisami may be our CM candidate,” he said.
But sources in the party indicated that Palanisami might change his mind and join Panneerselvam. The Panneerselvam camp had claimed on Saturday evening that at least five ministers would extend support to them before late evening and “not less than 20 MPs” were already with them “although they are yet to announce their decision”.