Soon after the sad demise of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, her trusted lieutienant Ottakkara Pannerselvam was sworn in as the new CM of the state on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday. The step was needed to send the message that the emotionally-charged state was not without a leader after the death of its one of the most popular leaders. However, Panneerselvam has big boots to fill to hold the state together.
Last month, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy had demanded imposition of President rule in Tamil Nadu as Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. His reason: The “ad-hoc” administration in the state led to the activation of the sleeper cell of the Islamic State group in the districts of Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Madurai and Kanyakumari and a “supportive action” by Dravidar Kazhagam, leftover LTTE and disruptive groups such as underground Naxalites. In a press release, Swamy had said that these elements may try to create a “massive disorder” in the state. On Monday, Swamy again said that the anti-India elements would try to create “chaos” in the state, but the Centre was prepared for all types of situation.
As the new CM of Tamil Nadu, Panneerselvam has inherited uncertainty. The Opposition DMK-led by K Karunanidhi is in disarray and there is no strong party with credible presence in the state. In times of uncertainties, a credible and influential opposition helps as it keeps the new claimants of power at bay in a democracy.
Panneerselvam has donned the CM’s role twice earlier when Jayalalithaa was convicted in corruption cases. When the charismatic leader was admitted to Apollo Hospitals on September 22, Panneerselvam, who was holding the Finance portfolio, was given charge of all portfolios held by Jayalalithaa. However, Panneerselvam was not able to come out of the shadows of Jayalalithaa even as she lied in the hospital for over two months.Panneerselvam ruled with the photo of his beloved leader.
Panneerselvam is regarded by AIDMK members as a devoted party man. In April 2006, Panneerselvam had earned the trust of his leader when he wiped the carpet on which Jayalalithaa was to set her foot with a white handkerchief. The trust and loyalty continued to grow stronger and he even showed some efficiency as the CM. However, Panneerselvam had to battle the charge of being called a puppet. But he is not the first politician who has been accused of being a puppet. Ex-PM Manmohan Singh battled this allegation for 10 years, yet ruled.
Manmohan Singh couldn’t become a leader in his own right. But there has been several leaders like Indira Gandhi in past who have grown from the shadows. Even at present, India has illustrious examples of Odisha’s Navin Pattnaik and UP’s Akhilesh Yadav. Both emerged from the shadow of their fathers and became popular leaders. Will Panneerselval also manage to do so? He better does, for Tamil Nadu.