Panneerselvam Rebels & Says He'll Fight Alone, Team Sasikala Strikes Back
Charges and counter-charges over the death of J Jayalalithaa flew thick and fast between the AIADMK and rebel leaders on a day the party had hoped to make VK Sasikala the Chief Minister.
New Delhi/Chennai: In a dramatic twist to the almost Shakespearean drama playing out in Tamil Nadu, ‘caretaker’ chief minister O Panneerselvam delivered the sharpest stab yet to the chief ministerial ambitions of ‘Chinnamma’ VK Sasikala when he “revealed” certain truths that were “pricking his conscience”.
“I want to tell some truth to the people of this country and AIADMK party cadre,” thus began Panneerselvam’s explosive press meeting at the memorial in Marina beach in Chennai where he had arrived at 9 pm without any notice. Before speaking out, he sat down next to the burial site of late CM J Jayalalithaa for almost 40 minutes meditating in silence.
He said he was forced to resign as the CM and was forced to recommend Sasikala’s name to the post. “I was given the CM’s post but insulted continuously. My own ministers turned against me. I was informed that Sasikala should take over as CM. When I asked what’s the necessity, they told me one person should have both posts,” he said.
He said the late night meeting of MLAs that decided Sasikala should be the party leader a day after Jayalalithaa’s death was undertaken without informing him.
“Amma's soul told me to inform this to the people of the State all this,” he said, adding that he will fight, and if need be, he will fight alone. “If people wish, I would even withdraw my resignation,” he said.
Soon after Panneerselvam’s open rebellion, Sasikala called an emergency meeting at Poes Garden and removed Panneerselvam from the post of party treasurer.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala took to Twitter to accuse the BJP of engineering Panneerselvam's "defection".
BJP has attained a mastery in art of defections, post Uttarakhand, Arunachal, Assam & UP. A repeat happening in Tamil Nadu? 2/n
— Randeep S Surjewala (@rssurjewala) February 7, 2017
Sources told CNN-News18 that Governor Vidyasagar Rao, who was in Mumbai on Tuesday, may ask Panneerselvam to prove majority on the floor of the Assembly on Wednesday. Rao is the Governor of Maharashtra and hold additional charge of Tamil Nadu.
Sources added that Deepa Jayakumar, niece of the late Jayalalithaa, is likely to come out in support of Panneerselvam on Wednesday. She has been projecting herself as Jayalalithaa's political heir since the CM's demise.
Reacting to the developments, DMK Working President MK Stalin said: “Sasikala Natarajan didn't allow CM O Panneerselvam to work freely. This is what the DMK has been saying and the same has now been said by Panneerselvam.”
As soon as Panneerselvam reached Amma Memorial, the following video where Jayalalithaa purportedly endorses Panneerselvam as her successor also started doing the rounds in Tamil Nadu.
Panneerselvam’s dramatic statements capped a day of high drama that saw charges and counter-charges over the death of Jayalalithaa fly thick and fast between the AIADMK and rebel leaders.
Incidentally, a few hours before Pannerselvam landed at the memorial site, the official handle of the AIADMK party tweeted disowning the Twitter handle @CMOTamilNadu. As Panneerselvam started speaking amid the chaos at the memorial, the twitter handle provided instant translations from Tamil to English.
Sasikala’s elevation that looked like a given on Sunday after AIADMK legislative party unanimously “requested” her to take charge as the CM looked uncertain on Monday as sources at the office of Governor Vidyasagar Rao, who is the Governor of Maharashtra and holds the additional charge of Tamil Nadu, said he had no immediate plans of returning to Chennai from Mumbai.
With the Supreme Court expected to deliver its verdict in the disproportionate assets case against Sasikala and others next week, political uncertainty grew as opposition parties attacked the move to elevate her as chief minister and the AIADMK coming out in strong defence of her.
Speaking to CNN-News18, senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram said he did not want to interfere in the intra-party functioning of the AIADMK, but added that the people of Tamil Nadu “have a right to question the decision. “The Governor has a very small window where he can exercise discretion,” he added.
Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakuma said it was a “sad day for democracy”. “There are a lot of unanswered questions about Jayalalithaa’s death. The press conference by the doctor was staged. I will announce my future course of action on February 24,” she said.
PH Pandian, a former Speaker of the Assembly opposed Sasikala being made the Chief Minister and alleged foul play in the death of Jayalalithaa, who, he said, was "pushed" at her Poes Garden home during a quarrel that led to her hospitalisation on September 22.
Pandian claimed that Sasikala's elevation was against party norms, saying she does not have the locus standi to either be the party chief or Chief Minister. "Sasikala does not deserve to be either the party supremo or the Chief Minister," Pandian told reporters, two days after Sasikala was elected AIADMK Legislature Party leader, paving the way for her to become the chief minister.
Pandian claimed that within 20 days after the demise of Jayalalithaa on December 5, party leaders were "made to say" that they wanted Sasikala to be the party chief.
"On the night of September 22, there was a war of words between the people of the house. It was about some happening with the other side's family (Sasikala's family) and Jayalalithaa and she was pushed down. She fell down and she became unconscious," Pandian alleged, adding, "This appeared in the papers next day."
Senior AIADMK leaders Panruti Ramachandran and KA Sengottaiyan rejected Pandian's allegations at a press conference and dubbed him as a "betrayer" who was creating "confusion”.
"The constitutional obligation of the Governor is to swear in Sasikala. There is no ground for stopping it. Nobody can stop it," Ramachandran, who was a minister in the first MGR cabinet, said.
Later in the day, expelled AIADMK MP Sasikala Pushpa, too, alleged that O Panneerselvam was likely forced to step down as Chief Minister. “Sasikala does not have a good background. The people of Tamil Nadu voted for Jayalalithaa, not Sasikala. If Jayalalithaa wanted Sasikala to be the CM, why would she hand over interim charge to Panneerselvam,” Sasikala Pushpa told CNN-News18.
Minister K Pandiarajan expressed confidence that Sasikala would be sworn-in in a day or two. "We have initiated the swearing-in process, but before that Chinnamma (Sasikala) has to meet the Governor in person after he arrives here. She will submit the letter seeking invitation which is the normal constitutional process.”
"Once it happens, I expect the Governor will give a date which could be tomorrow or day after. More likely day after which is a good day," he said.
(With inputs from Poornima Murali in Chennai)
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