O Panneerselvam takes Sasikala camp to cleaners, but the road ahead remains murky

"Tamizhan na kokka aa (Do you think a Tamilian is a waste/useless person)?" screamed an O Panneerselvam supporter.

Scores of them descended on Panneerselvam's residence on Greenways Road in Chennai, complimenting him for showing spine, at last. The mood was one of admiration for the dignified manner in which Panneerselvam took the Sasikala camp to the cleaners. It was as if the 40-minute meditation he did at J Jayalalithaa's memorial at the Marina Beach was the calm before the political storm.

"Anything that starts at the Marina, will always be successful," said another supporter, referring to the Marina uprising that Chennai witnessed in January against the ban on Jallikattu. In their view, Panneerselvam had proved his valour by taking on the bull by its horns. Expectedly, he got his reward for it in the form of a suspension from the party, almost immediately.

O Panneerselvam after meditating in front of late J Jayalalithaa's burial site at the Marina Beach in Chennai on Tuesday. PTI

O Panneerselvam after meditating in front of late J Jayalalithaa's burial site at the Marina Beach in Chennai on Tuesday. PTI

In a repeat of what happened in the AIADMK after MGR's death in 1987, the party has ruptured once again. Former MLA from Mylapore, Rajyalakshmi went to the extent of saying the party has split and that it was only a matter of time before the MLAs started deserting Poes Garden. The first heavyweight transfer application was filed by Rajya Sabha MP Dr V Maitreyan, who visited Panneerselvam's home to extend support.

That Panneerselvam's move had rattled Sasikala was obvious from the fact that she stepped out of Veda Nilayam to address the media. She must have seen the visuals of the celebration and support for Panneerselvam at his residence and she wanted to show that the men and women who matter — the legislators — are with her. Quite a change for a party used to shunning the media.

Panneerselvam, a man of few words, kept his cards close to his chest. The surprise element at prime time was a masterstroke. On the face of it, at the moment, Sasikala has most MLAs with her, but the last count may not have been taken. What will be critical is the cadre's reaction to Panneerselvam's revolt. That will put pressure on the MLAs to calibrate their reaction. Also critical will be how the caste leaders react given that both Sasikala and Panneerselvam belong to the influential Thevar community.

Sources say Panneerselvam has not reached out to any of the legislators yet. He obviously did not want word of his impending revolt to leak out. But it is more than likely that parties like the BJP and the DMK will be more than happy with the rapidly-unfolding developments given their antipathy to Sasikala's ascension. Both parties have been blamed by Sasikala's supporters for backing Panneerselvam.

What happens from here on is critical. Under no circumstances will Governor Vidyasagar Rao take Sasikala's claim at face value. He could insist on a floor test if he indeed makes Sasikala take the oath of office. Panneerselvam also plans to meet the governor and tell him that he had to quit under duress. But since his resignation has been accepted, how Panneerselvam and Rao find a way around it will be interesting to watch.

But Team Sasikala will hope to parade its MLAs before Rao, and put pressure on him to make her chief minister. This, even as Rao is already apprehensive of swearing Sasikala in as chief minister because the disproportionate assets case in which she is now the prime accused, is due for verdict next week. It is then quite likely that the governor will continue with the status quo arrangement.

But there is a problem with that as well. The caretaker chief minister now does not have a party — a bit similar to the situation in Uttar Pradesh where Mulayam Singh Yadav had temporarily suspended Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav from the party.

Tamil Nadu is in political flux and the governor is not helping matters by staying away from Chennai. He should ideally be in the state capital, trying to ensure that the political turmoil does not take a hit on the law and order situation in the state.

The war is also extremely personal.

Panneerselvam has hit out at Sasikala, saying she did not like the good work he did during Cyclone Vardah. The press conference on Wednesday promises more fireworks and the Sasikala camp will not like being pushed on to the back foot with all the rockets coming in its direction. The AIADMK has described Panneerselvam as a betrayer, forgetting the slight and insult to which he was subjected. On more than one occasion, Sasikala has humiliated him by looking through him, failing to show respect that the chief minister of a state deserves.

Clearly Panneerselvam's show of defiance has been the Amma of all revolts. It puts a question mark over what happens next. It must be making all those loyalists who have put up wall posters in Chennai with Sasikala's photograph saying "Permanent Chief Minister" feel very silly.

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Updated Date: Feb 08, 2017 12:47:06 IST

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