CHENNAI: Exactly a week after he radically altered his career with an appearance at mentor J Jayalalithaa’s grave, O Panneerselvam returned to her memorial this evening. With an addition-her niece, Deepa Jayakumar.
Ms Jayakumar is the daughter of Ms Jayalalithaa’s brother and alleges that an estrangement between her family and the politician was part of the machinations of VK Sasikala.
“Mr Panneerselvam and I would act as pair of hands of AIADMK,” she said at the memorial.
For years, Ms Sasikala lived with Ms Jayalalithaa who died in December during her fifth term as Chief Minister. Today, the Supreme Court found that the women conspired to collect a vast and illegitimate fortune during Ms Jayalalithaa’s first term. Ms Sasikala has been sentenced to four years in a Bengaluru prison but has yet to be jailed.
Seven nights ago, Mr Panneerselvam made a night visit to Marina Beach, where Ms Jayalalithaa was buried and dispensed the claim that her spirit had appeared before him and urged him to resist the attempt by Ms Sasikala to replace him as Chief Minister- he took office hours after her death.
This ethereal transmission had to contend with many real-world complications. For one, Mr Panneerselvam had already sent his resignation letter to Governor C Vidyasagar Rao. Another was that virtually every one of his party’s legislators were gung-ho about Ms Sasikala’s ascension.
Not Ms Jayakumar. The 42-year-old, who is not a member of the AIADMK, had announced she intended to survey party cadre to prove that she was entitled to her aunt’s legendary political legacy.
With the Supreme Court deciding on prison for Ms Sasikala and barring her from contesting an election for 10 years, the 61-year-old savvily and hastily chose a proxy as party leader. E Palanisamy has been named the new Chief Ministerial candidate of the AIADMK and this evening, he met the Governor to file his claim to take a trust vote. Mr Panneerselvam, currently the acting Chief Minister, has sought the same.
On various fronts, he has used the last week judiciously. While the Governor sought counsel, he whittled down Ms Sasikala’s collection of state legislators by 11. Not a big number, but one that could make a difference in a trust vote, where her team now has just six more legislators than it needs to win.
To guard against defections, Ms Sasikala has boarded about 120 legislators at a luxury resort outside Chennai for a week. After regular visits, she moved in there last night. Representatives of Mr Panneerselvam, assigned to go behind enemy lines, were disallowed today from reaching the resort by the police. They were to urge the party to remain together – a prospect that seems destined to travel no further than a wishlist.