The announcement of Finance Minister O Panneerselvam taking over all portfolios held by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa comes as no surprise for those keenly following Tamil Nadu politics: he is, after all, her permanent understudy.
This is the third time in his career that the 'Amma' loyalist has stepped up for his leader: first, in September 2001, where he was the interim CM for six months when Jayalalithaa was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Tansi land deal case and second in September 2014, after a Bangalore court sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined Rs 100 crore in a corruption case.
This move finally came after Jayalalithaa continued to remain in Apollo Hospital in Chennai since 22 September, after she complained of fever and dehydration. The Tamil Nadu Governor Vidyasagar Rao on Tuesday allocated the portfolios held by her to Finance Minister O Panneerselvam, but said the AIADMK leader will continue to be the chief minister.
"Under Clause (3) of Article 166 of the Constitution of India, the Governor of Tamil Nadu today allocated the subjects hitherto dealt by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to O Panneerselvam," a Raj Bhavan press release said.
Panneerselvam, who holds the Administrative reforms portfolio, in addition to Finance, "will also preside over cabinet meetings", it said. "This arrangement has been made as per the advice of the Chief Minister and will continue until the Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa resumes her duties," it said. "Jayalalithaa will continue to be the Chief Minister," the release added.
For those in the know, Panneerselvam has been repeatedly chosen as a caretaker of the TN government as he was seen as the "most loyal", writes The Hindu. But that might have changed, opines The News Minute although he did find a place in the 2016 cabinet. The piece said that the first sign of cracks between Panneerselvam and Jayalalithaa appeared when the former was not included in seat sharing talks and electoral committee meetings — all because of an alleged hashtag (#OPS4CM) that made the rounds on Twitter; AIADMK supporters claimed that it was the work of DMK's IT wing to start a rift between the two. But soon it looked like the rift was forgiven.
So, who is Panneerselvam?
In her biography of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Amma: Jayalalithaa's Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, Vaasanthi writes that Panneerselvam, who belongs to the Thevar community, was a son of a "poor farmer" and a "humble man, known for his modesty". She writes about the first time that Panneerselvam was asked to step in her shoes.
He and all the ministers who were sworn in afresh fell at Jayalalithaa’s feet and sought her blessings. Amma looked amazingly calm as she accepted their obeisance. For all practical purposes, it was she who was still the chief minister. It was said that Panneerselvam had moved into the compound of Poes Garden and all the files went for her scrutiny before he signed. In the corridors of government offices, they waited for Amma to come back.
After Jayalalithaa was acquitted in the Tansi case in mid December, Vaasanthi writes that "poor Panneerselvam" was the most relieved...
... who, like Bharata waiting for Rama’s return from his exile in the forest, was waiting for Amma’s return.
Discounting the fact that he was only an interim CM, Panneerselvam, who disclosed his personal assets, revealed that they were worth only Rs 8.6 lakh, taking into account his liabilities, according to a report in The Hindu. It also adds that the Bodi constituency candidate does no own any immovable properties, but that his wife has properties worth over one crore.
With inputs from PTI