Editor's note: This piece was originally published on 12 October, 2016, when the then Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu O Panneerselvam took over the late Jayalalithaa's portfolios. This is being updated and republished in light of her death.
On late Monday night, Apollo Hospitals and AIADMK announced the passing away of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who suffered a massive cardiac arrest on Sunday evening. She passed away at 11:30 pm on Monday, after battling for life for 75 days, Apollo Hospitals said in a statement. Two hours after the announcement of her death, in a swift political transition, her loyalist O Panneerselvam was sworn in as Chief Minister at a sombre ceremony at the Raj Bhawan, along with all the ministers in the erstwhile Jayalalithaa Cabinet.
The announcement of 65-year-old O Panneerselvam comes as no surprise for those keenly following Tamil Nadu politics: he is, after all, her permanent understudy.
This is the fourth time in his career that the 'Amma' loyalist has stepped up for his leader: first, in September 2001, where he was the interim chief minister for six months, when Jayalalithaa was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Tansi land deal case, second in September 2014, after a Bangalore court sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined Rs 100 crore in a corruption case, and third when Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospital since 22 September, after she complained of fever and dehydration, and continued to remain there. But then she continued to serve as the Chief Minister.
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.
Panneerselvam, along with his friend Vijayan, set up a tea stall, PV Canteen (now named Rosie Canteen), in the 1970s, writes Scroll. A decade later, the canteen was handed over to his younger brother and mild-mannered Panneerselvam subsequently entered politics in 1996, reports News18, and became the chairperson of the Periyakulam municipality in Theni district.
Panneerselvam has prostrated before Jayalalithaa, deified her and wept for her. He also meticulously followed her orders, coordinated with bureaucrats and proved himself a mature leader and team player.
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.
Panneerselvam sworn in
A grim-faced Panneerselvam was sworn in as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu at around 1.15 am by Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao at the Raj Bhavan amidst a scene of gloom. Panneerselvam took oath as CM with a photo of Jayalalithaa in his pocket.
As Chief Minister, Panneerselvam will hold all portfolios held by Jayalalithaa including Home, besides Finance. Panneerselvam retained all members of the Jayalalithaa cabinet
With inputs from PTI