O Panneerselvam has hardly caught a wink since he revolted on the evening of 7 February. Along with the caretaker chief minister, Tamil Nadu is having sleepless nights as well.
"It is not going to end anytime soon," says Dr V Maitreyan, Rajya Sabha MP who was among the first to shift loyalties to Panneerselvam. The revolt has changed the grammar of the otherwise servile nature of politics in the AIADMK. Its most visible sign was Panneerselvam, who in the last two months, wore his Chinnamma deification on his sleeve. He now calls Sasikala by name.
Political differences do end up in name-calling, literally.
Without a doubt, Panneerselvam has taken a huge gamble. And he believes he will win. Even though the numbers are stacked against him, the caretaker chief minister believes the pan-Tamil Nadu version of the Marina uprising for Jallikattu will propel him to the chief minister's chair again. Panneerselvam believes he was pushed against the wall. He is now appealing to the conscience of his AIADMK colleagues to move camp — from Chinnamma to OPS Anna. It is no secret that he has invisible political backers outside of Tamil Nadu, who want to see him succeed in this daring mutiny.
But while the trickle of party cadre and leaders has begun, the lawmakers are staying put with Sasikala.
The reason for that is the legislators do not want to fall between two stools — Poes Garden and Greenways Road, where Panneerselvam's residence is located. A majority of them want to be sure that there is a tsunami of support blowing in his direction and not just a gentle evening breeze. None of them wants a snap poll in 2017, having spent a fortune to get elected nine months ago. They will back whoever they think will survive till 2021 and at this point in time, herd mentality says, the person is Sasikala.
The challenge for Panneerselvam is to convince them that he is the winning horse to back. Which he hopes to do by riding on the popular public support that is building up in his favour. The fact that presidium chairman Madhusudanan walked into his camp, is being seen as a shot in the arm, though he is also dismissed by his critics as a veteran politician from the black and white era. The one benefit he brings is that he will be seen along with Treasurer Panneerselvam as representing the real party, a claim that will help the chief minister before the Election Commission.
The other hurdle for Panneerselvam is that his resignation as chief minister was accepted by the governor. Now when he is claiming that his resignation was submitted under duress, constitutional experts are divided over the discretionary powers of the governor to withdraw his acceptance of the chief minister's resignation.
Panneerselvam's backers are also a bit worried about his poor strike rate after more than 48 hours of the revolt. Only seven legislators have moved into the OPS camp till now. The expectation was that Panneerselvam would be able to woo at least 40-odd legislators by this time. The chief minister's camp blames the alleged strong-arm tactics of Team Sasikala, which has moved them to a resort in Mahabalipuram, for the inability to reach out to the MLAs.
The task is cut out for Panneerselvam. Since the governor has bought time by saying he will need to consult legal experts, it gives the chief minister the chance to garner support. He could of course, receive a huge shot in the arm, should the verdict in the disproportionate assets case go against Sasikala.
The options for the Sasikala camp, that is clearly on the back foot, are limited. It has to ensure that its men and women are not poached. It also has to neutralise the negativity surrounding Sasikala's bid for the top job. Another headache is Panneerselvam's bid to appeal to the emotional AIADMK cadre by promising to convert Veda Nilayam into an Amma memorial. The subtext of that is that Sasikala, who is living in J Jayalalithaa's residence, should be asked to move out.
The AIADMK is also worried about what the Governor will do. Though legally he is bound to go by the letter given by Sasikala staking claim with signatures of 134 MLAs, Vidyasagar Rao cannot ignore the charge of forgery leveled by Panneerselvam. Sasikala's fear is that the more time she loses, the chances of the legislators slipping away from her camp increase.
The party has reportedly reached out to the Congress for support by its eight MLAs, should she lose more legislators but the divided Congress is unlikely to play ball.
The third player in the Tamil Nadu drama is the governor, who has to now do a deft balancing act, making sure he does not come across looking partisan. His absence from the Chennai Raj Bhavan has been criticised. But now that he has finally come, he must ensure an end to this political turmoil at the earliest. Legally he is in a bind and whatever happens in Tamil Nadu now, will be cited as a precedent.
The Supreme Court verdict could prove to be the game changer and bring an end to this drama, irrespective of what the Governor does or does not do. While Panneerselvam reaches out to the people's court, by releasing the list of phone numbers of all lawmakers and asking people to call up the MLAs to question why are they still with Sasikala, the Supreme Court may just hold the key to Fort St George, where the Tamil Nadu Secretariat is located.
Updated Date: Feb 10, 2017 12:11 PM