A meme featuring popular Tamil comedian Vadivelu has gone viral. It sums up the situation O Panneerselvam finds himself in. In a scene from 2002 Tamil film Karmegham, Vadivelu's character supered in the meme as OPS is egged on by a passerby to emulate another person, who is sitting on a chair and pretending to be like royalty. The passerby is described as BJP while the person sitting is supered as Sasikala.
By the end of the slapstick comedy scene, Vadivelu's OPS falls into the slush and wonders why he was nudged by the BJP to copy Sasikala's demeanour and end up with his white attire sullied.
Two weeks after his dramatic revolt, when his conscience woke up and the spine made a miraculous appearance, OPS is now merely a former chief minister. The red beacon was taken away within minutes of Edappadi Palaniswami being sworn as chief minister, reducing OPS to a rebel whose cause had been halted.
It would be foolhardy to write off OPS because after all, whoever imagined that the loyalist for all seasons who specialised in prostrating before Jayalalithaa, would reinvent himself. Despite allegations of corruption and nepotism against him, OPS captured the imagination of the man on the street who wanted anyone but VK Sasikala and her Mannargudi clan to rule Tamil Nadu.
From the night of 7 February, when his 40-minute meditation at the Amma memorial seemed to have given him Buddha-like enlightenment and spunk, OPS was the unscintillating supporting cast who had stepped up to become a phata poster nikla hero. Commoners along with AIADMK cadre rubbed shoulders to lend support and show solidarity with Panneerselvam.
Not that Panneerselvam was a solo act. The casting agents were from outside of Tamil Nadu who saw in his humble demeanour the ability to carry off the role of a lifetime. The script was outsourced as well, with OPS tasked only with the job of attracting legislators from the Sasikala camp. But Chinnamma Sasikala proved smarter, herding her group to a resort outside Chennai. Within a week, it was obvious that the OPS versus Poes battle was going in favour of the latter.
Through the week when all roads in Chennai led to Greenways Road, where Panneerselvam's house was located, there was resentment in the DMK camp as well. Its leaders felt that OPS had occupied the entire anti-Sasikala camp and by extension anti-AIADMK space, reducing the DMK to a spectator, at least temporarily. Panneerselvam, much like Stalin did in 2016, had also been smart in using the power of the social media, tapping into the youth.
But Panneerselvam's inability to poach on the Sasikala camp proved his undoing and made his backers realise that he did not have all the shots in the book to take the fight to the opposition camp. By 18 February, when it was time to vote in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, OPS had only an unimpressive cricketing eleven with him. Hardly enough to take on the Sasikala camp of 122.
The DMK going for the jugular in the Assembly was not without reason either. It was MK Stalin's way of grabbing back the anti-Sasikala space from OPS. By Saturday evening, with his torn shirt as a trophy for his efforts, Stalin had emerged as the pivot of the anti-AIADMK opposition, with OPS going into silent mode.
During the week when OPS was seen as the rising star, his social media team collated lakhs of phone numbers and promised that recorded OPS audio messages and WhatsApp videos will follow soon. But now OPS will need to reinvent himself all over again now that his political convoy has hit a hurdle. In fact, Stalin has used social media to reach out to a larger mass of people, alleging that Sasikala was responsible for Jayalalithaa's death.
Many expected Panneerselvam to be a magnum OPS but the OPS story, at least temporarily is over, with Stalin stealing the thunder. From the manner in which some of Panneerselvam's associates have been speaking, it is obvious that they are keeping the lines of a rapprochement open with Edappadi Palaniswami. They know there is public resentment against Sasikala but if a more organised and aggressive DMK is going to ride on it, the AIADMK rebels know they will be left in the lurch. Tagging along with the DMK invites ridicule from the AIADMK rank and file but they lack the muscle to strike on their own.
The past fortnight has seen Tamil Nadu politics resemble a trapeze act in a circus, with loyalties swinging wildly. If a week is a long time in politics, two weeks make it a matter of political life and death. Panneerselvam would agree. And so would Sasikala.
Updated Date: Feb 21, 2017 11:50 AM