With Jayalalithaa continuing to remain in hospital since September 22, Tamil Nadu Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao on Wednesday allocated the portfolios held by her to Finance Minister O Panneerselvam but said the AIADMK supremo will continue to be the Chief Minister. Significantly, this is the third time that Paneerselvam has been asked to step into his leader’s shoes although there is a slight difference.
In 2001 and 2014, he had taken over as Tamil Nadu’s chief minister after J Jayalalithaa had stepped down, the first time following a court order in the TANSI case, the next time on account of her conviction in an assets case. Also known by as OPS, this time he has been given the CM’s portfolios and not the position.
According to a leader from AIADMK, this was largely a “political decision” to silence the Opposition who is inquiring into the condition of Amma and believes that Tamil Nadu is going through a constitutional crisis.
Aides say Panneerselvam comes across as satisfied with what he has. A friend from his hometown, Periyakulam in Theni district, said Panneerselvam’s biggest dream had been to become chairman of Periyakulam municipality. “He fulfilled that in 1996, and has treated all subsequent positions as a gift of God or a gift of Amma,” said the friend, who helps the family in businesses in Theni.
Moreover, OPS has often been described as a “proxy” by Jayalalitha’s critics and once as benami by the Opposition’s Stalin. With less than two years after becoming an MLA,Panneerselvam was standing in for the post of CM.
Although there had been a brief fall out between Amma and OPS, the latter continued to accept, admit and apologise for mistakes he or his family was perceived to have committed, eventually leading to a patch-up.
“He was targeted for the growing clout of his son, brother and son-in-law,” a leader close to Jayalalithaa said. The CM removed those close to Panneerselvam from key posts, and kept him out of an election decision-making body.
The leader added that she appeared less harsh on him than on others. Unline others such as Palaniappan and Natham Viswanathan who too face her wrath, Panneerselvam apologised and retained his position, reports The Indian Express.
If his skills include staying in favour with his leaders, he does not come across as a commanding leader himself, according to officials he has worked with, a fact acknowledged even by his aides.
“He is a shy person with bureaucrats and a loyalist before his political bosses,” said one source. Officials and politicians The Indian Express spoke to said other power centres are Sasikala in politics and Sheela Balakrishnan, a retired IAS officer and adviser to CM, in governance. “Other key figures are chief secretary P Rama Mohana Rao and Chennai police commissioner S George,” said a source close to the CMO.
Moreover, Panneerselvam is said to have the confidence of Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala. Both are Thevars, a politically powerful OBC community. “When Sasikala’s nephew T T V Dinakaran contested the Lok Sabha election from Periyakulam in 1999, he stayed at Panneerselvam’s house. Dinakaran played a key role in getting Panneerselvam an MLA ticket in 2001,” said Panneerselvam’s friend.