Edappadi K Palaniswami spent a lifetime in the shadow of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, who picked him out of political wilderness three decades ago and used him as her link to the cadre.
Now, the 62-year-old is firmly in the spotlight after the governor on Thursday invited him to form the government in the state. Proving his majority on the floor of the House while facing the challenge of a raging rebellion led by caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam will test his mettle.
Palaniswami, a leader from western Tamil Nadu’s Salem, is from the politically powerful OBC Gounder community. He doesn’t have large support base in his home town but might reap the benefits of being a staunch Jayalalithaa loyalist.
He was known to be a part of her so-called “Nalvar Ani” - the four-member elite cabinet that Jayalalithaa had instituted from 2011-2016. He was also the third choice for the CM’s post after Jayalalithaa’s death last December.
An AIADMK MLA from western Tamil Nadu’s Kongu Nadu belt said it was “well-known among the party that when Amma wanted to pass a message along to the district level ranks of the party, it came through Palaniswami”.
Hailing from the rural Nedungulam village in Edappadi taluk, Palaniswami joined the AIADMK at a young age in the 1980s. He threw his weight behind Jayalalithaa when the party split after her mentor and party founder MGR’s death in 1987.
Jayalalithaa rewarded Palaniswami for his loyalty by nominating him as the AIADMK (Jayalalithaa) candidate in Edappadi constituency during the 1989 elections, in which he was victorious. Though he was sidelined for almost a decade after failing to secure his seat after 1991, Palaniswami continued to be a trusted party leader.
In the May 2016 elections, Palaniswami was fielded again in Edappadi , which he easily won by margin of 42,022 votes.
As head of the legislature party, Palaniswami has already expelled Panneerselvam from the AIADMK but whether he can muster enough strength to defeat OPS in a floor test remains to be seen.