His abiding image is of an obliging man sprawled in front of his political master, a regent who governed with a photograph of his mentor on an empty chair when she was away.
But over the past 24 hours, Tamil Nadu’s caretaker chief minister OP Panneerselvam has shattered that image of a docile, compliant man whose unflinching loyalty to his late predecessor and benefactor J Jayalalithaa made many suspect his political acumen.
In launching a high-stakes revolt against AIADMK chief VK Sasikala to stop her becoming the next chief minister, Panneerselvam has surprised many with an unprecedented display of political dare and combativeness.
But what led to the 66-year-old politician to change his political spots?
Here are five reasons that could have helped Panneerselvam, also known as OPS, come into his own:
1) Outside support: OPS’ revolt against Sasikala could have been encouraged by a promise of support from other parties, especially the DMK and BJP – neither of which want Sasikala to become CM or who want to play a greater role in Tamil Nadu politics
2) Take a chance: Now that he has resigned, there is politically not much for him to lose—so, he might as well give it a shot
3) Popularity: Known as a low-profile leader, since his swearing-in as CM for the third time on December 6, OPS has become a “people’s leader”. During cyclone Vardah, before that a drought, the Jallikattu protests and the Ennore oil spill, OPS took decisions that appealed to the people, adding to a groundswell of goodwill for him
4) Anti-Sasikala sentiments: The anti-Sasikala sentiment, seen in parts of the state, has surprised many. Even party leaders who anticipated protests are taken aback by the wave of discontent. This could have encouraged OPS
5) The spirit: OPS could be, as he has said, a true AIADMK loyalist who has been disillusioned by the turn of events in the party and wants to stand for the values that Jaya stood for.