After waiting in the wings, AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala has staged a bloodless coup to take over as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu from incumbent O Pannerselvam who assumed the mantle after the passing of long-time Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Dec 5 last year.
True to his style, Pannerselvam has readily agreed to step aside after Sasikala decided to take office.
Armed with a unanimous resolution by the AIADMK legislature party electing her as leader in his place, Sasikala is expected to stake her claim and be sworn by the Governor tonight or tomorrow.
To dispel the impression that she is an usurper, Sasikala had told the legislators that Pannerselvam wanted her to take over after the passing of Jayalalithaa, but she refused as she needed time to come to terms with her grief. And it was she who made Pannerselvam the Chief Minister. Upon her becoming the general secretary of the party, she was faced with the demand that there should not be two power centres and she should accept Chief Ministership.
As acceptances go, she is seen to be bowing to appeals from her partymen.
Pannerselvam, bowing to the inevitable, himself proposed her name .
The two shared an uneasy relationship though publicly they avoided treading on each other’s corn.
Thanks to good rapport with Prime Minister Modi, Pannerselvam carried on the adminisration and took bold decisions like legalising jallikattu to get over the Supreme Court ban on the sport.
From jallikattu to getting central assistance for drought for dealing with the massive spill on the Chennai beach following collision of two oil tankers, Pannerelvam acknowledged Modi’s help.
Unlike Jayalalithaa, known for her autocratic style, Pannerselvam chose to go by consensus as he was only too well aware that he was no mass leader.
This endeared him to DMK working president and Leader of the Opposition M K Stalin who only the other day told him not to worry about internal strife and run the government, keeping in mind only the interests of the state.
Finding Pannerselvam’s growing popularity, Sasikala felt that it was now or never. The immediate trigger was the easing out of senior bureaucrats and one-time advisers to Jayalaltihaa, like Sheila Balakrishnan and two others.
This was seen as an assertion of authority by Pannerselvam who felt that they were taking instructions from Sasikala.
Once she decided to strike, Pannerselvam did not want to go down fighting as he wanted to save the party and the government which have the mandate to rule for another four years.
Both Pannerselvam and Sasikala are who came from the middle class and made it big.
Pannerselvam, one-time tea seller which perhaps endeared Modi to him, had over the years rose to be NO 2 in Jayalalithaa cabinet. Twice when she forfeited office following court conviction in corruption cases, he held the fort as Interim Chief Minister until she cleared her name.
Sasikala wormed into Jayalalithaa’s lif e by selling video cassettes to her. She has since amassed wealth beyond dreams of avarice.
After Jayalaithaa’s death, the party chose Pannerselvam as Chief Minister, unlike Sasikala who remained only her personal aide and was never entrusted any position in the party, leave alone in the government.
In fact when Jaya suspected that she along with her husband Natarajan was planning to capture party in the event of her conviction in the wealth case by the Bengaluru court in September 2014, she swiftly sent her out of the house and out of the party.
Sasikala was allowed into Jaya’s home and into the party again only after she declared she had no political ambition and she would be loyal to her forever
On the plus side, Sasikala looked Jayalalithaa for over three decades, including the 75 days she was in hospital. Her proximity to power enriched her. As a result, she and Jaya got embroiled in several corruption cases.
Again to her, when the DMK Government of 1996 tried to make Sasikala an approver, she refused and instead chose to go to jail along with Jaya.
After the Bengaluru special court’s judgment of September 2014 in the assets case also, she suffered imprisonment along with Jaya.
Of course, both were later acquitted by the Karnataka High Court and Supreme Court’s verdict on the appeal filed against this by the Karnataka Government is awaited.
If the apex court upholds the trial court’s judgment holding them guilty, Sasikala will be disqualified from the post of Chief Minister as it happened to Jaya. That is a risk she has taken.
On the minus side, she made a lot of enemies at the party by controlling their access to Jayalaltithaa. As a result many senior MGR loyalists were sidelined.
Now that she has taken the plunge, she has her task cut out for. No more power without responsibility. From on, she will be accountable to the party, the people and to the Assembly where the DMK is waiting to grill her.
Not being a member of the Assembly, she has to get elected within six months. Then she has to lead the party to victory in local body elections. Of course, the next Assembly elections are four years away, giving her enough time to consolidate her position.