Dramatic developments unfolded in Tamil Nadu in quick succession but failed to end the suspense on government formation on a day the Supreme Court convicted AIADMK leader V K Sasikala, her nephew V N Sudhakaran and sister-in-law Elavarasi in a corruption case. The late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was the prime accused in the case.
Sasikala had stayed overnight at a private resort, over 85 kms from Chennai, where more than 120 party MLAs were confined since the rebellion by one-time Jayalalithaa protégé and outgoing Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.
Showing no signs of immediately surrendering before the Bengaluru court to serve her four-year prison term, Sasikala went about the task of convening a meeting of the AIADMK Legislature Party and got Public Works Development Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami nominated as its leader.
“Soon after the court delivered its verdict, Sasikala was angry. She told her family members and some confidants that under no circumstances should Panneerselvam (whose popularity is rising) be allowed to exploit the situation to his advantage. Within 15-20 minutes, she convened a meeting of the MLAs and got her loyalist elected its leader. She hopes to rule by proxy from the Bengaluru jail,” said an AIADMK MLA who was in the know of things. “She will remain the general secretary of the party as of now,” he added.
Not stopping with that, she expelled 20 leaders including Panneerselvam and School Education Minister Ma Foi K Pandiarajan (both MLAs) from the primary membership
of the AIADMK. She had not expelled 10 legislators and 12 MPs, who had switched camps, from primary membership possibly sending a signal to them that they could return if they wished and to avoid cross-voting during a floor test. In the afternoon, Palaniswami told journalists that he was unanimously elected leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party but refused to answer a question as to how many MLAs supported him. At 5.30 pm, along with an 11-member team of leaders, he met Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao and staked claim to form the next government.
However, the MLAs, whose support the Sasikala camp has claimed to have, continued to be protected inside the resort by tough looking men. Former Higher Education Minister Palaniappan claimed that the legislators were staying there out of their own will and would not move until the Governor invited them to form the government.
The Governor summoned the Director General of Police T K Rajendran and Chennai Police Commissioner S George and held discussions with him on the law and order issue.
A strong police contingent including those from the strike force surrounded the resort early in the morning and remained there as a precautionary measure. The Kancheepuram district Collector promulgated prohibitory orders in Koovathur village where the resort is located. At night electricity supply was switched off, but there was no clarity as to what the police intended to do. As of now, Sasikala has played her cards well. Realising the anger of the people against her, she avoided anointing a family member for the top constitutional post in the State. By opting for Palaniswami, who belongs to the Gounder community in western Tamil Nadu, she has ensured that there may not be any immediate erosion in the party’s ranks – especially MLAs – to the Panneerselvam camp.
Palaniswami along with Panneerselvam was part of Jayalalithaa’s four-member kitchen cabinet between 2011 and 2016.