CHENNAI: He was the classic loyalist, who then became the most unlikely rebel. The insurrection against the establishment did not succeed, and the rebel camp was reduced to just a dozen MLAs including him. But in just a week, a period that was filled with intrigue, suspense and mystery, former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has had a stunning change of fortunes, emerging as the leader of the most powerful among the three factions of the ruling AIADMK.
The clearest indication was the eagerness with which the ruling faction leaders – who till then swore by general secretary VK Sasikala and her nephew, deputy general secretary, TTV Dhinakaran – came out in the open to explain that the whole family would be side-lined from party and government, the most important demand that the rebels had raised.
According to sources close to Panneerselvam, they are not looking for anything less than the chief minister’s chair that was taken from him by the loyalists. They are also planning to start the negotiation with the demand that senior leader E Madhusudhanan should be made the general secretary.
This is a rather steep bargain, considering that they have the support of only 12 MLAs in a House of 234 members. But mere numbers without context do not reveal the full picture.
With the backing of just 122 members, the ‘Edappadi’ K Palaniswami government is surviving on a fragile margin. Now, questions have again cropped up about these numbers after at least eight MLAs loyal to the Sasikala family rallied around Dhinakaran, strongly criticising the ministers who mutinied against him. If these loyalists, too, turn against them, the ruling faction has little margin to manoeuvre. Thus, by antagonising the loyalists, the establishment has effectively painted itself into a corner, with only the rebels in sight to offer any help to survive.
Beyond the numbers, the rebels also count a number of factors that are working in their favour. For one, they are hopeful of a favourable verdict from the Election Commission on the question of the elevation of Sasikala as the general secretary by the general council – the party constitution is clear that the leader should be elected by the grassroot level cadres. If her appointment is found contravening the constitution, all her subsequent actions, including appointment and expulsion of office-bearers, will become null and void.
In such a situation of status quo ante, Panneerselvam, the treasurer, and E Madhusudhanan, the presidium chairman, would return to the party – at the very top of the hierarchy. The merger will also enable the party to retrieve its ‘two leaves’ symbol, the most crucial electoral asset it has right now after the death of its leader J Jayalalithaa.
Equally important is the tacit support Panneerselvam reportedly receives from the Centre-ruling BJP. It may be difficult for rivals to conclusively prove that the drives by Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate and other central agencies against Dhinakaran and his camp members were politically motivated. However, regardless of the motive, it is evident that the key members of the establishment coming under the scanner has helped Panneerselvam more than anyone else. This has rattled ministers, MLAs and influential office-bearers – the fear that Dhinakaran referred to on Wednesday.
It thus was no surprise to find scores of party cadre and media personnel flock to Panneerselvam’s residence right from morning on Wednesday, a routine that would continue for the next few days. There has just been a change in equation in State politics, and Panneerselvam has firmly placed himself right in the middle as the X factor.