CHENNAI: In an unexpected development, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam was denied an audience by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at her office in New Delhi, on grounds that he had no appointment. However, Panneerselvam’s confidante, Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan, met the Minister.
The development has upset AIADMK functionaries, more so as it comes days after the party supported the BJP-led central government during the no-confidence motion. On returning from Delhi, Panneerselvam reacted, saying “Arignar Anna has taught us ‘edhayum thaangum idhayam vendum’ (we should possess a heart that withstands everything),” indicating Sitharaman’s act had hurt him but he was taking it in his stride.
Earlier in the day, when mediapersons asked about Panneerselvam’s sudden visit to New Delhi, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said, “It is not a sudden visit. He has gone to thank the Defence Minister for providing air ambulance to bring his brother from Madurai to Chennai for emergency medical treatment recently.” Later, that afternoon, Panneerselvam, at New Delhi, said the same. “My visit is neither political nor official, but personal. It is to thank the Defence Minister,” he told mediapersons.
Panneerselvam, accompanied by Maitreyan, went to Sitharaman’s office in South Block. However, only Maitreyan was allowed to meet the Union Minister. This was revealed when her office tweeted that the appointment was only for Maitreyan and she did not meet Panneerselvam.
However, high-level sources revealed that Maitreyan had, a week ago, fixed an appointment with Sitharaman on Panneerselvam’s behalf. He is said to have requested that the meeting, ostensibly to thank the Minister, be kept confidential. In this context, sources said Sitharaman was irked to find Panneerselvam revealing details of their ‘confidential’ meeting to media. When Panneerselvam and Maitreyan reached her office, only the latter was ushered in. In the short meeting, Sitharaman is learnt to have asked the MP why a meeting that was to be kept confidential — at his request — was revealed to media. Maitreyan could not be reached for comment.
Interestingly, Municipal Administration Minister SP Velumani, ahead of boarding a New Delhi flight on Tuesday, denied that Panneerselvam’s Delhi trip was a result of a rift between the Deputy CM and Palaniswami. Velumani was scheduled to meet a few Union ministers, including Sitharaman, in New Delhi on Wednesday. However, it is learnt that the Defence Minister has cancelled his appointment.
Meanwhile, a key AIADMK functionary expressed dismay at Tuesday’s developments. “India is a federal polity. The Defence Minister could have met the top representative of a State at least for a few minutes as he had come to her office. Just imagine if this happens to Union ministers coming to Tamil Nadu,” the functionary told Express.Political observers read much more into the matter and are waiting to see how things unfold in coming days.
Defence craft given on payment basis
It is learnt that it was RS MP V Maitreyan who called Sitharaman, a few weeks ago, and put Panneerselvam on the line with her. Panneerselvam asked her if a defence aircraft from Sulur air base could be arranged to transport his ailing brother after the private aircraft hired had developed technical issues. Sitharaman said she would see what could be done. The defence aircraft was finally arranged on a payment basis.