The fast-changing political situation in Tamil Nadu has produced a clutch of possibilities in the power struggle between chief minister O Panneerselvam and AIADMK chief Sasikala Natarajan — elevated to their current ranks after the death of J Jayalalithaa, who held both positions.
The 66-year-old Panneerselvam, also known as OPS, was stand-in chief minister twice when Jayalalithaa was barred from holding public office because of litigations against her. He was the so-called “natural choice” when the AIADMK leader died on December 5 after a cardiac arrest.
Sasikala — the departed leader’s closest aide and one-time conscience keeper — took over the party’s top post within days of Jayalalithaa’s death. The 59-year-old’s elevation triggered a rebellion, with Panneerselvam and several top leaders going against her.
Sasikala insists party legislators are backing her. The Panneerselvam camp is digging in its heels. And governor C Vidyasagar Rao is yet to take a decision. Thereby hangs several scenarios.
The majority of 133 AIADMK legislators, barring a vacant seat after Jayalalithaa’s death, pledge support to Sasikala. The governor invited her to form a new government and adhere to a deadline to prove her strength with a trust vote in the assembly. She could pass the test if the numbers she demonstrated at the party headquarters on Wednesday are any indication.
Governor allows Panneerselvam to continue until a clear picture emerges. Also, the governor may like to wait as the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a disproportionate assets case against Sasikala next week. If Sasikala is acquitted, the road is clear for her. If convicted, she cannot hold any constitutional position such as the chief minister’s post. The AIADMK will then have to elect another leader and stake claim if the legislators don’t want Panneerselvam to continue.
The governor recommends President’s rule. It will lead to fresh elections. If the AIADMK can put its house in order, it can get another chance to form the government and avoid going to the polls without their charismatic leader, Jayalalithaa. There are four more years till the current assembly’s term expires. No AIADMK legislator will be in the mood for fresh elections, and will try to avoid facing the ballot.
Governor allows Panneerselvam to continue and asks him to prove support from the majority of legislators. He says many MLAs are with him, and more will take his side in the next few days. But to break away from the AIADMK, he needs at least 90 of the 133 party legislators to avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law.