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3-min read

Here is Why Congress Leaders Are Split on Sasikala Vs Panneerselvam

The national leadership of the Congress, at best a marginal force in Tamil Nadu, too, is divided over whom to support in this game of thrones being played out in Chennai.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:February 8, 2017, 10:54 PM IST
Here is Why Congress Leaders Are Split on Sasikala Vs Panneerselvam
A file image of VK Sasikala and O Panneerselvam. (PTI photos)

New Delhi: It’s not just the AIADMK which is split down the middle over the VK Sasikala vs O Panneerselvam battle. The national leadership of the Congress, at best a marginal force in Tamil Nadu, too, is divided over whom to support in this game of thrones being played out in Chennai.

Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram told News18 that Governor Vidyasagar Rao should not swear in Sasikala as chief minister as she faces serious financial allegations and has no political experience. While he didn’t say it in so many words, by taking a side against Sasikala, he seemed to be batting for the ‘caretaker CM’ Panneerselvam who has now demanded his resignation last Sunday as CM be withdrawn.

ALSO READ: In This Chennai Potboiler, Focus is On Chinnamma's 'Conflict of Interest'

And that’s where the differences within the Congress begin to show up.

Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel tweeted earlier on Wednesday wondering why the Governor was not in Chennai during such a crucial hour. “Why is the Governor not in Chennai at such a crucial political juncture? What is the Centre's real agenda?” he asked.

Senior leader Digvijaya Singh parroted his line. “Political turmoil in TN and Governor playing truant. Is he fulfilling his duties? No. He is doing politics under direction of BJP,” he tweeted.

So what gives? Sources within the party say it is yet to formulate an official policy and hence the leaders pulling in different directions according to their personal preferences.

Tamil Nadu Congress Chief Su Thirunavukkarasar is believed to be close to Sasikala’s husband Natarajan. In fact, Congress sources reveal that Rahul Gandhi’s “surprise visit” to see Jayalalithaa at Apollo Hospital was organised by Sasikala’s husband on the insistence of the Tamil Nadu Congress Chief. It was an attempt to also build pressure on the BJP indicating that their options were open.

ALSO READ: ‘Panneerselvam is Disgracing Amma’s Memory. That is What Pains Me’

Despite the denials and clarifications that the Centre is showing no interest in the events being played out in Chennai, political parties, including the “official” faction of the AIADMK led by Sasikala, believe the events, including Pannerselvam’s surprise rebellion, was orchestrated from New Delhi.

On February 6, Governor Vidyasagar Rao was in Delhi to attend Union HRD Minister Prakash Javedekar's son’s wedding reception. Next morning he had a “discreet meeting” with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and though no advice was given nor sought formally, the Chennai events were clearly uppermost in their mind.

ALSO READ: Panneerselvam Says Many MLAs in Touch Him, Counters Sasikala's Majority Claim

Top government sources say it was suggested to the Governor that he need not rush to Chennai and instead wait for things to settle down. He was also asked to seek more legal opinion to weigh the pros and cons.

Political commentators believe top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, share a rapport with Panneerselvam. During the Jallikattu agitation, the PM did not hesitate to give him an appointment and sources say he insisted that he be left alone with Panneerselvam to discuss issues of the state. The only one who was present in the room was the state chief secretary.

BJP believes Panneerselvam enjoys credibility and it would be easier to have a working relation with him in comparison to Sasikala.

But for the state Congress, Sasikala is a better option. State party mavens believe her political inclination is not favourable to BJP’s positions on various issues, and besides, there is the closeness between Natarajan and Thirunavukkarasar.

Another reason is also the now-on now-off interstate dispute on sharing Cauvery waters between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the only big state ruled by Congress party now. With Karnataka elections not too far away and Congress keen to retain the state, the local Congress unit feels Sasikala could be less rigid than Panneerselvam.

But back in Delhi, sources say Chidambaram was consulted for some tips on the situation and he is believed to have spelt out the ground situation.

When Governor Vidyasagar Rao finally lands in Chennai on Thursday, it won’t be just Sasikala and Panneerselvam, but both the BJP and Congress that will be keenly watching who gets that prime seat in St George Fort.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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