All through the Jayalalithaa years, O Panneerselvam was seen as Amma's prostrator-in-chief. The ultimate loyalist who despite being made chief minister twice when Jayalalithaa had to step aside, never sat in the CM's chair. That mask of docility came off in February 2017 when he rebelled against VK Sasikala's leadership of the AIADMK after being asked to step aside as the chief minister. Tamil Nadu was led to believe that here was an anti-corruption crusader with a spine.
That mask of sacrifice for the sake of ethical politics got ripped off in August when he decided to do a ghar waapsi and work as deputy to Edappadi Palaniswami, originally appointed by Sasikala. He tried to justify his decision by publicly admitting that had Narendra Modi not advised him, he would not have agreed to play second fiddle in a government where he was chief minister thrice before was it.
Now if TTV Dhinakaran, the leader of the rebel group of the AIADMK who has since floated his own party, is to be believed, there was yet another mask that OPS was wearing all this while. On 12 July 2017, OPS had a clandestine meeting with Dhinakaran arranged by a businessman during which he reportedly apologised to him for his revolt and evinced interest in joining hands once again. But despite making this offer, OPS merged his outfit with the ruling AIADMK led by EPS a month later.
In the last week of September 2018, OPS reportedly reached out to Dhinakaran through the same businessman and also his son and brother. The message this time was that he wanted to get rid of EPS and help appoint Dhinakaran to an important position. Dhinakaran claims he refused to meet OPS and instead chose to expose Panneerselvam's double face.
OPS did not deny the meeting but in his version, it was Dhinakaran who took the initiative for the meeting. "I met Dhinakaran due to political courtesy and it is not a crime. The meeting was arranged by the other side which kept calling me," explained OPS. Asked if he tried for a meeting last week, OPS dismissed it as a bluff by Dhinakaran and denied any plot to overthrow EPS.
"Why should I try to destabilise this government. I am deputy chief minister and part of this government. I will never become the chief minister through the back door," he said.
What this revelation has done is to hit at Panneerselvam's credibility. Picture this. A sizeable number of AIADMK cadre had thrown its weight behind OPS supporting his 'dharma yuddham (holy war)' against Sasikala, Dhinakaran, and company. But unknown to any of them, he was meeting the same Dhinakaran he was claiming to fight. Also Dhinakaran's party colleagues knew all along that such a secret meeting had taken place but till this was outed on Friday, not a single person in the ruling AIADMK knew about it. This disclosure has irked his close aides and has created a trust deficit vis-a-vis him.
In fact, realising the damage it was doing to the AIADMK's image of a united front, early on Friday, state electricity minister P Thangamani waded into the controversy by accusing Dhinakaran of sending a mediator requesting for a merger and that the ruling AIADMK leadership spurned the offer. Another senior AIADMK leader close to Panneerselvam, KP Munusamy rubbished Dhinakaran's claims, denying any meeting between OPS and Dhinakaran. Now that OPS has accepted that he did meet Dhinakaran, Thangamani and Munusamy have been left with egg on their faces.
Given the BJP leadership's antipathy to the Mannargudi family, Modi is not likely to be pleased about the fact that the man he backed in Tamil Nadu was doing his own thing on the side, without keeping anyone in the loop.
Why did Dhinakaran decide to expose Panneerselvam considering he had kept the meeting a secret for over a year? He claims that after he turned down the request for a meeting, OPS on 30 September mocked him at a meeting in Mannargudi asking "how will a small pin dismantle a mountain". That's when Dhinakaran says he decided to show the true colours of OPS to the world.
But the real intention seems to be with an eye to set the cat among the AIADMK pigeons ahead of the Madras High court verdict in the case related to the Speaker's disqualification of 18 MLAs belonging to the Dhinakaran camp which is expected next week. If the court quashes the Speaker's decision, it will push the Tamil Nadu government into a minority and it is here that the revelation that Panneerselvam was meeting Dhinakaran secretly, would expose the fault lines.
There is also the caste angle to this entire drama. Panneerselvam in terms of stature and seniority is the tallest Thevar leader in the ruling party today. The other biggies in the state cabinet are all from the Gounder community — EPS, Thangamani, municipal administration minister SP Velumani and education minister KA Sengottaiyan. The Delhi face of the AIADMK M Thambidurai is also a Gounder.
A weak Panneerselvam will mean Dhinakaran emerges as the tallest Thevar politician in Tamil Nadu and he could leverage that to woo the MLAs from the community on to his side should the court verdict go against the government. With a dented image, Panneerselvam will no longer have the moral stature to command loyalty of the MLAs from his community and region.
EPS will have reason to be pleased with Friday's developments. His competitor within the party and the government has diminished in stature. And while Dhinakaran may succeed in bringing down the government if the court quashes the Speaker's decision, he will find it tough to take control of the AIADMK. This is because 28 of the 135 AIADMK MLAs who were elected belong to the Gounder community and will rally behind the biggies, who apart from wielding political clout are also moneybags. EPS has stayed in office for 18 months despite all odds and even his critics credit his survival skills.
Updated Date: Oct 06, 2018 09:55 AM