Panneerselvam, the ‘Man Friday’ who scored another win


Chennai: What can unflinching loyalty do? Make you chief minister.

Outgoing Tamil Nadu Deputy CM O Panneerselvam remains the most popular example for this as his unflinching loyalty for ‘Amma,’ the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, saw his graph soar from a low-profile minister to the state’s top post on two occasions when she had faced legal complications.

The AIADMK Coordinator has scored a hat-trick of wins from Bodinayakanur Assembly segment in the just concluded polls in the verdant Theni district in the state.

After having ensured party unity last year by projecting K Palaniswami as the chief ministerial candidate for the April 6 elections, which the DMK won, amid some divergent remarks from various Ministers, is Panneerselvam in the race for Leader of Opposition will be known in a day or two.

The 70-year old Panneerselvam, or OPS as he is known, had served as CM thrice–twice due to legal complications and arrest of Jayalalithaa in different cases and later for a brief period post her death in December 2016.

Panneerselvam, who entered politics at a young age of 18, rose in ranks and earned the trust of Jayalalithaa who entrusted him with the task of running her government in her absence.

He became chief minister in 2001, when she had to step down due to the TANSI case and again in 2014 when the late leader was convicted in the disproportionate assets case.

He became chief minister for the third time in 2016 following her demise.

This staunch loyalist of the former chief minister had to, however, resign two months later, as the party split and the governor appointed K Palaniswami as chief minister who later proved his majority in the assembly.

A disenchanted Panneerselvam had earlier launched a “dharma yudham” revolt on the sands of Marina beach against V K Sasikala following alleged differences.

However, in August the same year, he merged his faction with Palaniswami’s group even as the two ousted Sasikala, who had by then been imprisoned in the assets case.

He became the deputy chief minister holding the finance portfolio in the Palaniswami cabinet. While Panneerselvam became coordinator of the AIADMK, Palaniswami was made the co-coordinator.

As coordinator of AIADMK, Panneerselvam averted a split in the party again days before the April 6 Assembly elections, when several state ministers spoke in divergent voices on party leadership and probable choice of chief ministerial candidate.

Veering the party from getting fragmented, Panneerselvam announced Palaniswami as the chief ministerial candidate.

Both the leaders led the party in the first electoral battle against the DMK combine in the absence of Jayalalithaa.

From being a primary member in the party in his initial years in the AIADMK, OPS was chairman of Periyakulam municipality from 1996 to 2001 and also the leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly in 2006 for a while.

While in opposition, he ridiculed the then ruling DMKs attempt to shift the state assembly to Omandurar estate and described the new secretariat complex as a “circus tent”.

He vowed that his AIADMK led by Jayalalithaa would storm back to power and shift the secretariat to its original place at Fort St George. And this was exactly what Jayalalithaa did after she returned to power.

Now with Palaniswami registering an impressive win with a huge margin of 93,802 against the DMK’s T Sambathkumar at Edappadi in Salem, it remains to be seen who among the two leaders will become the leader of the opposition in the assembly.