The AIADMK dismissed media reports about a leadership change in the Tamil Nadu government on Sunday morning, even as party MLAs braced themselves for an emergency meeting later in the day.
Speculations were rife that party general secretary VK Sasikala would be chosen as the new legislative party leader – paving the way for her to assume the chief minister’s mantle. Though many party leaders favour such a move, a few believe O Panneerselvam should be retained because he is doing a good job at the helm of affairs.
The chief minister, who enjoys a fair degree of goodwill in the state, has even won praise from opposition leader and DMK working president MK Stalin.
Party spokesperson CR Saraswathi refused to comment on the rumours of leadership change as well as the topic of discussion at the MLAs’ meeting, scheduled to be held at 1.30 pm.
A senior party leader chose to deny the speculations. “At present, I do not have any specific information. I doubt the authenticity of the media reports. For the time being, I would like to treat them only as rumours,” he told HT on the condition of anonymity.
He said that even if a leadership change were to happen, it would be a smooth transition with “complete cooperation” from Panneerselvam.
The buzz over Sasikala’s possible elevation comes in the backdrop of the party leadership politically rehabilitating several leaders shunned by J Jayalalithaa, the charismatic former chief minister who succumbed to cardiac arrest in December.
Sources say the objective of the move could be to thwart Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar – who is reportedly in talks with a section of AIADMK leaders over announcing her political strategy on February 24, the late chief minister’s birthday. Jayakumar has compared the move to anoint Sasikala as the legislative party leader to carrying out a military coup.
Earlier, Rajya Sabha MP Sasikala Pushpa and AIADMK leader KC Palaniswamy complained to the Election Commission (EC) that Sasikala’s appointment as the party’s interim general secretary had been carried out in an undemocratic manner. The EC issued a notice to the AIADMK, seeking clarifications in this regard.
Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s closest aide since the 1980s, had handled party affairs on several occasions despite not holding any formal position in the AIADMK prior to the former chief minister’s death. She is called Chinnamma, meaning aunt, taking after Jayalalithaa – who was popularly known among her legions of supporters as Amma (or mother). However, rivals refer to the AIADMK general secretary, her husband and their extended family as the ‘Mannargudi Mafia’ – referring to their alleged stranglehold over the party.
Meanwhile, Panneerselvam continues to go about his chief ministerial duties. Later in the day, he is scheduled to visit Ennore port to review the ongoing clean-up operations of an oil slick that occurred recently.