Tamil Nadu got a new chief minister on Thursday — EK Palaniswami, a loyalist of convicted AIADMK leader VK Sasikala. But the common man’s choice for the post appears to be the man he replaced, O Panneerselvam.
For the men and women on the streets, Panneerselvam — also known as OPS — continues to be the “people’s chief minister”.
People have not taken kindly to Sasikala’s attempts to grab power from him.
“OPS has a clean image in politics. And he is a simple man and has handled administration well after the death of Jayalalithaa. Why should he be removed when he is doing well?” said Raju, a Chennai cab driver.
Panneerselvam’s popularity peaked when he successfully negotiated an arrangement to circumvent a court ban on Jallikattu, the popular bull-taming sport that triggered a mass movement in the state in January.
People also give credit to his administrative capabilities in the way he handled the Vardah cyclone crisis.
“You cannot find a better loyalist to Jayalalithaa than Panneerselvam. Sasikala might be closer to Amma, but has no respect among the people,” Raju said.
Wilson, the proprietor of a medical shop at Pondy Bazar in Chennai, held similar views,
He said Sasikala was interested in money, not people’s welfare. “We do not know much about Palaniswami, but since he is a Sasikala loyalist, he might carry the bad name. Compared to him, Panneerselvam is better.”
Also, people believe that if Panneerselvam cannot become the chief minister, then DMK leader Stalin can be an option. “Given a choice, Stalin is a better candidate than Palaniswami,” said Ramesh, an autorickshaw driver.
Palaniswami was elected leader of the AIADMK legislature party when the Supreme Court on Tuesday sent Sasikala to four years in prison in a two-decade-old corruption case, dashing her hopes of becoming the chief minister.
The loyalist’s elevation was a masterstroke that Sasikala played to keep bête noire Panneerselvam out of power, capping a high-voltage drama in which she corralled more than a hundred MLAs into a luxury resort that was turned into a heavy guarded fortress. Thereby she ensured Palaniswami had the numbers to stake claim to form the government.
Panneerselvam became chief minister after former AIADMK supremo and chief minister J Jayalalithaa died of a cardiac arrest last December. Like in the past, when he had stood in for Jayalalithaa twice as chief minister, his third stint was cut short by Sasikala’s ambitions.