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For EPS, the Battle For Hearts and Minds Has Only Just Begun

File photo of E Palaniswami.

File photo of E Palaniswami.

Despite his triumph in the House, Chief Minister Palaniswami will be looking over his shoulder every step along the way, wondering if he can be secure in the 'confidence' he enjoys or someone – either in his party or the 'family' – is waiting to pull the rug from under him.

Chennai: When superstar Kamal Haasan tweeted after the trust vote on Saturday "People of Tamizhnadu, Welcome your respective MLAs with the respect they deserve back home," he drew a plethora of responses. The key word "respect" being up for all kind of interpretation.

While one said "surely they will have to face chappal," another follower of his said these MLAs better not go back to their constituencies, they should just return to the Golden Bay resort – since they can't possibly face the voters.

Haasan, who has been taking a lot of interest in the political developments of the last two weeks, went on to ask voters to send emails to the Governor if they are unhappy with the current 'state' of affairs.

With huge popularity in this southern State, the 'Nayakan' hero has probably voiced the concern of lakhs of others in the State.

Just two hours after Edapadi Palaniswami was invited to form a government on Thursday, mobs of supporters who were at former chief minister O Panneerselvam's home were trying to barge into the home of his neighbour CV Shanmugam, who took oath as law minister in the Palaniswami cabinet.

"Where are these missing MLAs? Why do they spend time, dancing and relaxing at the taxpayer's cost? Ask them to come out," screamed one woman, restrained by police from laying siege to Shanmugam's home. Another questioned why the police was stopping them from meeting their minister. "Is this the way you treat a party worker? What happens to people then?" she asked.

One onlooker Nizam Mohammed said the anger is because Tamilians are used to different endings in films. "We have been trained to romanticise that the bad guy is supposed to lose in the end. But in this case, even after the bad guy got convicted by the Supreme Court and sent to prison, the bad guy seems to have won. And there doesn't seem to be an end to this nightmare," he said.

The anger was also visible on the streets with reports coming in of people shouting slogans at cars that were ferrying the MLAs back to the Golden Bay Resort after the oath taking.

When Mylapore MLA R Nataraj – one of those MLAs who have tried his best to be impartial but finally threw in his lot with the OPS faction – visited his office on Friday, he was greeted by voters asking him to stay away from the 'resort crowd.'

Panneerselvam, too, called upon people in all constituencies to go out and tell their elected representatives what they think of them. This also reflected in his stand in the Assembly before the vote of confidence began, that the AIADMK MLAs should visit their constituencies before they decide on who they want to vote for in the floor test. When the Governor had given them all of 15 days to prove their majority, what was the hurry to hold the session on the second day, the Opposition argued.

Also read: Not Just EPS, Here is a List of CMs Who Survived the Trust Vote

Doubtless, a public backlash is brewing under the heat and dust of Chennai's streets. The public has been watching: how for two weeks MLAs shuttered themselves out of the very people who put them on that pedestal; how a CM was not elected at a party or government office but at a beach-side resort; how a trust vote was held behind doors as closed as the ones at the resort.

Even on the street that leads to now-confirmed Chief Minister Edapadi Palaniswami's home, one can see torn posters of AIADMK with VK Sasikala's face on them. Incidentally, the other posters seem to have been left alone: not something that augurs well for a two-day old government still trying to find its bearings.

"Stability in these conditions will not be easy. Like they say at each meeting of the Alcoholics Anonymous, the EPS government will take it one day at a time, " says RK Radhakrishnan, political analyst who has seen many upheavals of this sort.

The uneasy majority of just five MLAs above the halfway mark of 117 MLAs needed to win the trust has already got the AIADMK Edapadi faction pussy-footing its way around.

MLAs didn't even stop to greet people outside the Assembly as they whizzed past them, on their way to pay tributes at Jayalalithaa's grave site. Perhaps they were hoping time, and some freebies, will heal all.

Even their behaviour within the House was unusual in the face of the commotion that the Saturday session saw with the DMK hurling mics and usurping the Speaker's chair. Having brought in directly from the resort to the Assembly, they were quiet and subdued, as if waiting for the whole session to get over as soon as possible, like sitting in a dentist's chair.

"Like all Tamil politicians, the AIADMK MLAs also are known to shout and scream and challenge the Opposition to fist fights. I've been witness to several such instances over the past few decades. Even if we grant that the AIADMK MLAs were today there with the single-minded goal of getting EPS a majority, their unusually calm behavior suggests they are under some kind of stress," says Radhakrishnan.

So despite his triumph in the House, Chief Minister Palaniswami will be looking over his shoulder every step along the way, wondering if he can be secure in the 'confidence' he enjoys or someone – either in his party or the 'family' – is waiting to pull the rug from under him.

This government, then, will be wrought by insecurity and instability. People have already begun taking Kamal Haasan's advice and sending missives to the Governor.

No wonder then that Haasan's parting advice to his fans was: be civil in your complaints to the Governor! For, to be anything else, will lead to chaos.

Well, Amen to that.