AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala paraded her MLAs before media on Sunday, though none were allowed to speak to reporters, as she tried to scotch allegations that the lawmakers were being held hostage to stop them from crossing sides.
The move came on a day more five more parliamentarians pledged support to acting chief minister O Panneerselvam, who is locked in bitter struggle with Sasikala over Tamil Nadu’s top job.
Sasikala, who is trying to take over the reins and allegedly forced Panneerselvam to quit, drove to the Golden Bay resort near the beach town of Mahabalipuram for the second day running to meet the MLAs, who were kept there since Wednesday night.
“Look at these people. How free they are and this proves all the false claims being made by those opposing us. They are living here like good family members. They were saying MLAs were kept in detention. But see for yourselves, how free they are,” Sasikala said.
She alleged that the MLAs were complaining of threats to their family members for supporting her.
“They are getting threats that their daughters will be taken away.”
She has alleged that the delay in making her the chief minister was a deliberate design to split the party.
The longtime confidante of former chief minister and party supremo, the late J Jayalalithaa, is awaiting the governor’s response to end the political stalemate.
“I lived for over 30 years with a lioness. And I have become a lioness and all of you are lions too,” she told her lawmakers. “OPS will be defeated.”
Governor C Vidyasagar Rao is yet to take a decision and speculation swirled that he might not invite Sasikala to form the government till the Supreme Court pronounced a verdict in the corruption case against her.
Sasikala appeared unfazed about the top court judgment. “Do you have any news in advance? Let it come, we will see,” she said.
But anxiety is mounting as more leaders crossed sides to the Panneerselvam camp.
The mood Panneerselvam’s home was electric with the arrival of each new MP. Of the AIADMK’s 50 parliamentarians — a joint figure from both Houses —10 have pledged support to OPS, as the chief minister is called.
The five new arrivals on Sunday included RP Marutharajaa, B Senguttuvan, Jeyasingh Thiyagaraj Natterjee, Lakshmanan and Rajendran.
But the stalemate remained. “Only MPs are coming, the MLAs still seem to be solidly behind Sasikala. But we have to wait and watch if, as minister Pandiarajan, said the trickle will turn into a torrent,” said a circumspect OPS supporter.
Panneerselvam asserted that at no cost will he and his supporters allow Sasikala to become the chief minister. “All the MLAs will come,” he insisted. “I will remain the chief minister without a doubt.”
He continued to accuse Sasikala of holding the lawmakers hostage at the resort.
“Today we have seen what was being shown from the resort. The MLAs have been confined and she is saying they are free. It is not the truth,” the chief minister said.
Asked why the chief minister was not sending police to free the MLAs, he said that he did not want any law and order problem to erupt.
Sasikala’s move to allow journalists into the resort is viewed as an attempt to counter negative publicity.
But there were reports that several mediapersons were manhandled and abused by AIADMK “private guards” outside the plush retreat.