CHENNAI: Overwhelmed by emotion and with tears in their eyes, O Panneerselvam, handpicked by J Jayalalithaa for his loyalty, today took oath as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu along with 30 other ministers who were equally grim at the swearing in ceremony.
In a low-key ceremony without the usual pomp associated with it, 63-year-old OPS, the 'Mr Faithful' was sworn-in by Governor K Rosaiah in the shadow of a seemingly bleak future for Jayalalithaa who has been convicted and sentenced to four years in jail in a disproportionate assets case.
Watch Video: Jayalalithaa Gets a New Identity at Bangalore Prison
Before the Governor administered the oath, Panneerselvam in a show of loyalty took out a small photograph of Jayalalithaa and placed it on the lectern while repeating the oath of office and secrecy and wiping tears from his eyes.
He returns to the post for the second time since 2001 when he was chosen by Jayalalithaa to be the chief minister almost under similar circumstances when she was unseated by the Supreme Court.
Panneerselvam has retained all the ministers who served in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet and effected no change in their portfolios.
According to a Raj Bhavan communique, the new chief minister has kept with himself Home and other key portfolios held by Jayalalithaa besides retaining Finance and PWD.
Panneerselvam was elected Leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party yesterday after the sentencing of Jayalalithaa to four years imprisonment by a Bangalore Special Court on September 27, resulting in her automatic disqualification as an MLA under the Representation of Peoples Act.
The 30 other Ministers who were sworn in next also wore a grim face, reflecting the atmosphere prevailing in the ruling party since Jayalalithaa's conviction and sentence, which bars her from contesting elections for ten years unless set aside by a higher court.
Tears rolled down the faces of many ministers as they came to the podium to be administered the oath of office and secrecy. The mood in the durbar hall was anything but celebratory with no exchange of greetings, claps or smiles.
The protocol department of the state government and the Raj Bhavan Secretariat kept the oath taking ceremony under a strict veil of secrecy, probably under instructions from the new Chief Minister in view of the circumstances and the mood prevailing among the partymen, who continued to hold protests across the state condemning Jayalalithaa's conviction.
According to opposition parties, they were not invited to the function.
Media, which has been part of such ceremonies traditionally, was also not invited this time.
Even when Rosaiah extended customary greetings after the oath taking ceremony, Panneerselvam appeared deeply distressed and the Governor was seen comforting him.
As in the past when he chose not to occupy the chair used by Jayalalithaa when he was the stop-gap arrangement for six months in 2001, Panneerselvam has decided to function from his existing office and not use the Chief Minister's chambers.
The change of guard was necessitated following the sentencing of Jayalalithaa in the 18-year old Rs 66.65 crore disproportionate assets case by a special court in Bangalore.
In 2001, Panneerselvam was catapulted to the top post by Jayalalithaa after the Supreme Court quashed her appointment as Chief Minister in view of her conviction in the TANSI land deal case. He duly vacated the office six months later after Madras High Court acquitted Jayalalithaa.
Panneerselvam belongs to the dominant Mudukulathor community and has risen from humble origins, having run a tea stall at his home town Periyakulam which is still being run by his family.
A first-time Minister in 2001 after his election to the assembly, he was vested with key Revenue department by Jayalalithaa, indicating her confidence in him.
In 2011, in a further endorsement of her trust, Jayalalithaa allocated the major departments of Finance and PWD to Panneerselvam. His name was understood to have been communicated by
Jayalalithaa in the Bangalore court itself after she was convicted and sentenced. She also had a long conversation with him in the court before she was lodged in the jail.