Tamil Nadu has its own tea-seller-turned-chief-minister in O Panneerselvam. OPS, as he is called in AIADMK circles, was sworn in as the chief minister after J Jayalalithaa passed away on Monday night.
Paneerselvam hails from Periakulam town of Theni district and belongs to the Thevar community, which is known to back the Dravidian party.
OPS along with his friend Vijayan started a tea stall PV Canteen in 1970. Ten years later, he gave the canteen to his brother Raja. The canteen was renamed Rosie Canteen, after his brother lost his daughter Rosie in an accident. The canteen still serves tea.
It is from here that 65-year-old Panneerselvam began his political career in 1996 by becoming the chairman of Periakulam municipality.
Backed by the local Member of Parliament TTV Dinakaran, he contested and won from the Periakulam assembly constituency in the 2001. The first-time MLA became the PWD minister. And from here he never looked back.
In 2001, he filled in for Jayalalithaa as the chief minister when Jayallithaa was disqualified from holding office by the Supreme Court. He vacated the post when she was cleared of the charges by the court the following year.
In similar fashion, OPS once again kept the CM seat warm for Jayalalithaa when she was sentenced to prison by a trial court in September 2014. The next year when the Karnataka High Court cleared her, the trusted man that he was dutifully vacated the seat.
Now, however, he is the chief minister on his own right. All 135 MLAs of the party have elected him unanimously as their leader. They have also submitted letters to the governor affirming their faith in his leadership.
It is not an easy crown to wear for OPS. The immediate challenge for him is to keep the party united. Despite being the chief minister twice before, he was merely standing in for Jayalalithaa.
With the supreme leader no more, he has to chart his own political future, yet work with the person holding reigns of the party.
Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University believes that since the government has a comfortable majority in the assembly, the Panneerselvam government will be stable. He also felt that the self-interest of the MLAs and the perks that go with office will ensure that they will continue to support the incumbent.
Given the charisma of the late chief minister it will be tough for somebody else to match or even come close to having the kind of command over party and government that she ensured. But it is precisely those traits that has pitchforked a tea-seller O Panneerselvam to the coveted post of the chief ministerial of Tamil Nadu.