A make-or-break showdown lies ahead for Tamil Nadu as AIADMK leader VK Sasikala alleged on Saturday that the delay in making her the chief minister was a deliberate design to split the party.
The long-time confidante of former chief minister and party supremo, the late J Jayalalithaa, is awaiting the governor’s response to end the political stalemate after she allegedly forced O Panneerselvam to resign from the top post in the southern state.
“We have waited long, we will approach this differently tomorrow (Sunday),” she said, a remark that appeared to be a veiled threat as well as an indication that patience is running thin.
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 a corruption case against her.
The delay is breeding impatience as she struggled to retain her flock, other than the 100-plus party legislators she had corralled into a luxury resort to stop them from switching loyalties. But anxiety was mounting as more leaders crossed sides to acting chief minister Panneerselvam’s camp.
She was building up her charge about a deliberate attempt to delay her swearing-in through the day.
Sasikala asked her supporters in the afternoon to remain calm, but “only to some extent we can be patient … after that we all together would do what needs to be done”.
Prior to that, she wrote a letter to the governor.
“It’s been seven days since Panneerselvam resigned. Taking the urgency of the situation, I would like to seek an appointment with Your Excellency by today with all MLAs who extended their support to me regarding further course of action to form the government,” the letter reads.
It was not clear if Raj Bhavan responded to her request.
The Panneerselvam camp was quick to counter Sasikala’s statements. She should be charged with threatening the governor and trying to foment violence, parliamentarian V Maitreyan said.
Security was stepped up in and around Chennai landmarks such as the homes of the governor and chief minister and Marina beach, where Jayalalithaa was buried and a memorial erected. Besides pickets and patrols, vehicles are being checked. An alert was sounded throughout Tamil Nadu.
The defections are a blow to the AIADMK general secretary, seeking to take over the reins from Panneerselvam, popular as OPS, who became chief minister after the December death of their mentor, Jayalalithaa.
With both factions trying to garner support, to prove their strength in the event of a floor test in the assembly, OPS got a major boost when education minister MF Pandiarajan and legislator C Ponnaiyan joined his ranks.
“We have waited long, we will approach this differently tomorrow”--- Sasikala
Pandiarajan, who till Friday was abusing OPS, said: “I have come here to protect unity under the man whom Jayalalithaa chose.”
Later in the afternoon, four Lok Sabha members — Ashok Kumar, PR Sundaram, V Sathyabama and R Vanaroza — came to the chief minister’s home in central Chennai to pledge their support.
“Many more MLAs will come. Slowly this trickle will turn into a torrent,” Pandiarajan said.
The developments prompted Sasikala to drive down to Golden Bay resort near the beach town of Mahabalipuram, 80km off Chennai, where more than 100 party MLAs are kept to stop them from switching loyalties.
She spent almost three hours with the lawmakers, urging each one of them individually to support her “so that Amma’s legacy can be carried forward”.
Jayalalithaa was endearingly called Amma by her legions of supporters.