AIADMK crisis: Desertions rattle VK Sasikala camp, as minister P Benjamin shifts loyalty to O Panneerselvam

Worries are mounting for AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, as P Benjamin, another influential leader and Minister of Rural Industries, switched over to O Panneerselvam's camp. Benjamin represents the Maduravoyal constituency in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

His exit comes just hours after state Education Minister Ma Foi Pandiarajan shifted his allegiance to Panneerselvam.

File photo of (L) VK Sasikala and OP Panneerselvam. PTI

VK Sasikala (left) and O Panneerselvam. PTI

The former deputy mayor of Chennai municipal corporation, Benjamin had won the Maduravoyal seat amid tough competition from DMK before he became part of Jayalalithaa's Cabinet last year.

Benjamin is the third minister to join Panneerselvam on Saturday. Apart from Pandiarajan, fisheries minister Jayakumar also left the Sasikala camp on Saturday.

As this report was being written, news agency ANI reported that AIADMK MP V Sathyabama also met Paneerselvam and offered her support to the caretaker chief minister.

With leaders coming under pressure from party cadres and apparent public sentiment against VK Sasikala, two MPs — PR Sundaram and K Ashok Kumar — also switched over to the chief minister's camp in the morning pledging their support.

In the evening, party veteran, spokesman and minister in the MGR cabinet C Ponnaiyan drove to the chief minister's residence and offered his support. A former minister MM Rajendra Prasad also joined the chief minister's camp. "The leadership of the party and government should be in good hands and that is Panneerselvam, who was trusted thrice by Jayalalithaa to be chief minister. All of us should work towards this goal," he told the cadres with Panneerselvam by his side at the chief minister's residence where they received him amid thunderous applause.

Rattled by the desertions, Sasikala, who has been elected the leader of the AIADMK legislature party, drove to the luxury resort, located 100 km from Chennai, in an attempt to prevent the MLAs who have been put up there for the last three days from switching sides.

KA Sengottaiyan, who was appointed the presidium chairman after the removal of Madhusudhanan, told reporters after Sasikala's meeting with the MLAs that all MLAs have taken a pledge that they will back her to the hilt till she becomes chief minister.

Sasikala wrote a letter to Governor Vidyasagar Rao, asking him to take steps immediately to swear her in at the earliest. She said she was ready to parade the party MLAs supporting her before him. She told him she had submitted an "elaborate presentation to invite me to form the government, as I have absolute majority", besides the original letter and true copy of the resolution electing her as the AIADMK legislature party leader.

Sasikala said she believed that the governor would "act immediately to save the sovereignty of the Constitution, democracy and the interest" of Tamil Nadu.

Meeting partymen at her residence, Sasikala also gave a veiled warning over the "delay" in being sworn in and said, "we are being patient because of our belief in fairness and trust in democracy. But we can be patient only to a limit but beyond that we will decide what we will do."

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2017 20:09:25 IST

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