Edappadi K Palaniswami, a loyalist of AIADMK general secretary V Sasikala, was on Tuesday elected the legislature party leader, taking over the post from her after she was convicted by the Supreme Court.
The move was apparently aimed at projecting Palaniswami as the next chief minister since Sasikala’s conviction will prevent her from holding the executive post.
Earlier, Sasikala sacked rebel leader O Panneerselvam, the Tamil Nadu caretaker chief minister, from the party’s primary membership, the latest in a series of tit-for-tat moves that the two factions have been making.
“I have sent a letter to Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao staking claim to form government. After Governor invites me, I will give him the official paper of my election signed by the legislators,” said Palaniswami.
Palaniswami’s election came at an emergency meeting called by Sasikala at a resort within hours of the Supreme Court upholding a Bengaluru trial court order convicting her in the disproportionate assets case, crushing her hopes of becoming the chief minister.
Palaniswami, a known Sasikala loyalist and a five-time MLA, is the party’s strongman from Salem district and currently holds the portfolios of Highways, Public Works and Minor Ports.
He was minister in the previous cabinet that was led by the late chief minister Jayalalithaa also and continued with the same portfolios.
He was retained in 2016, both by Jayalalithaa and later by her successor Panneerselvam, who has since revolted against Sasikala for allegedly forcing him to step down from chief ministership.
Minutes after the apex court delivered the verdict, Sasikala went into a huddle with her MLAs to decide on the next steps.
Security has been strengthened across the state. Police presence has been stepped up at the resort, about 80km from Chennai, where MLAs supporting her are housed since the past few days. Sasikala herself stayed overnight at the resort.
The expectation is that Sasikala will leave for Bengaluru to surrender in the trial court as per the apex court order.
The apex court quashed the Karnataka high court verdict that had acquitted Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case and asked her to surrender herself.
Sasikala was elected AIADMK Legislature Party Leader on February 5, paving the way for her becoming Chief Minister. Two days later, Panneerselvam rebelled against her.
Sasikala on Tuesday sacked Panneerselvam, who has been continuing as caretaker Chief Minister, from the AIADMK’s primary membership.