Many political watchers in Tamil Nadu heaved a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court verdict came in on Tuesday — a unanimous ‘guilty’ from the two-judge bench.
The political uncertainty that has gripped the state since February 7 appeared to have been resolved with the claimant to the chief minister’s post, VK Sasikala, being disqualified from contesting, thanks to the verdict.
But Sasikala was in no mood to back off. After installing her proxy, Edappadi K Palaniswami, as the legislature party leader of the AIADMK on Tuesday, Sasikala went on to appoint her nephew TTV Dinakaran as the deputy general secretary of the party on Wednesday and another relative, Dr Venkatesh, in another post within the party.
On Tuesday night, Palaniswami, along with 12 MLAs, visited Raj Bhavan and met the governor to stake claim to form a government. They claimed that they had the support of 120 MLAs. Around 100 MLAs said to be pro-Sasikala continue to remain inside the Golden Bay Resort in Koovathur, outside Chennai.
Meanwhile, chief minister O Panneerselvam appealed to the MLAs to come over to his camp to ensure that the party does not split.
So now the battle is between Palaniswami and Panneerselvam, both of who are vying for the chief minister’s seat. With them are a group of key leaders, who form the think tank of the respective camps.
We profile the three key leaders in the Panneerselvam and Sasikala camps.
O Panneerselvam (OPS)
MLA from Bodinayakkanur
Won: 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016
Posts: Three-time chief minister (2001, 2014 and 2016 to date), public works department (PWD) minister, finance minister, home minister etc
Hailing from a successful farmer and moneylender family in Periyakulam, Theni district, Panneerselvam steadily climbed the ranks of the AIADMK. He joined the party in the 1980s, when former chief minister MG Ramachandran led the party and became the Periyakulam Municipality chairman in 1996.
His first electoral victory came in 2001 when he contested from the Periyakulam assembly seat. Subsequently, the Periyakulam seat became a reserved constituency and he switched to nearby Bodinayakkanur.
Panneerselvam commands respect amongst the bureaucracy and a section of the party for his accessibility and simple nature. Although there are allegations of links to sand mining baron Sekhar Reddy and other shady deals, nothing has been proven so far.
Former MLA from Radhakrishnan Nagar
Posts: Former minister for textiles, presidium chairman of the AIADMK since 2010
One of the ministers in the first term of J Jayalalithaa’s cabinet, Madhusudhanan represented north Chennai. He was made minister for textiles between 1991 and 1996. In 2010, Jayalalithaa brought him back to prominence in the party and made him Presidium Chairman.
“The year represented a height of decline in presidium politics, as only erudite scholars occupied the post. Madhusudhanan was the exception. While his standing in the party has diminished, his relationship with the Hindi-speaking population in Sowcarpet thrives. He’s known to be a man who gets things done and brings in crowds for last minute meetings and demonstrations,” says senior journalist RK Radhakrishnan.
Former MLA from Tiruchengode constituency
Won: 1977, 1980, 1984 and 2001; lost from Saidapet constituency in 2016
Posts: Former minister of finance, education, industry, agriculture, cooperation, highways, transport, law and IT
A veteran politician, who was MG Ramachandran’s lawyer and co-founded AIADMK with him, Ponnaiyan has served as various ministers since his entry into the party in 1957. He took part in the anti-Hindi agitations along with many other seasoned politicians.
Known in Tamil Nadu for coining the phrase “scientific corruption”, Ponnaiyan alleged that the DMK indulged in it from 1996-2001 through dubious deals in the public works department.
Ponnaiyan was a key leader in MGR’s cabinet. Jayalalithaa sidelined Ponnaiyan since 2006 in the party, but he was given a ticket in Chennai’s Saidapet constituency in 2016, which he lost.
Edappadi K Palaniswami
MLA from Edappadi constituency, Salem district
Won: 1991, 2011, 2016
Posts: Minister for highways and transport
Currently, the minister of the public works department, state highways and minor ports, Palaniswami is from the Kongu Vellalar community with a limited hold in the western belt. Hailing from a farming family, Edappadi is a three-time winner – 1991, 2011 and 2016. He is one of the few to survive the frequent reshuffling of ministers between 2011 and 2016.
He is known to be close to Sasikala. Palanisamy had filed a defamation case against corruption charges levelled against him by Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president EVKS Elangovan in 2015.
MLA from Gobichettipalayam constituency, Coimbatore district
Won: 1977, 1980, 1984, 1989 (Jayalalithaa faction), 1991, 2006, 2011, 2016
Posts: Former transport, forests, agriculture minister
Sengottaiyan, a staunch Jayalalithaa loyalist, started his career in the party in 1975 as Erode district secretary. He is a winning candidate and hence gets a ticket in every election. He is a six-time MLA and was minister thrice. In 2011, relations between Sengottaiyan and Sasikala soured as he reportedly celebrated publicly during Sasikala’s ouster from Poes Garden. A few months later, when Sasikala returned, Sengottaiyan was sidelined and stripped of his portfolios.
He is a well-known leader in the Kongu belt (western districts) and was once known as “Route Sengottaiyan” as he was the one in charge of planning Jayalalithaa’s campaign routes and ensure that things ran smoothly. Many political analysts and AIADMK leaders were surprised when Sengottaiyan threw in his lot behind Sasikala in the wake of Jayalalithaa’s demise in 2016.
MLA from Viralimalai constituency, Vellore district
Won: 2006, 2016
Posts: Minister for health
A doctor by profession, Jayalalithaa once asked him why he wanted to join the gutter that is politics. Vijayabaskar, it is said, held that it was the best channel to do service to people. There are no controversies on his roster, except for an incident in 2015 where he abused an AIADMK party cadre with caste slurs, inviting protests.
Vijayabaskar was an active minister during the flood relief in December 2015. In 2006, Bhaskar brought his daughter to campaigns and made her recite speeches. The Election Commission would later crack down on him, but Vijayabaskar’s defence was that his daughter was doing it of her own accord.
(Published in arrangement with GRIST Media)