Tamil Nadu’s caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam on Tuesday said he was forced to resign from the top post and vowed to fight “even alone” in a dramatic late night revolt against AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala.
“If the people want, if (the) cadre wants, if the legislators want, I will withdraw my resignation,” Panneerselvam told reporters near the memorial of former chief minister Jayalalithaa.
Just before he spoke, Panneerselvam prayed for nearly 40 minutes at the memorial of Jayalalithaa, whose death in December has sparked conspiracy theories and propelled Sasikala to becoming the chief minister of the state.
Jayalalithaa died at a Chennai hospital after prolonged illness and Panneerselvam, 66, was the party’s unanimous choice as the chief minister.
“It’s who the people want who should be CM. That is what is good for the state. Whether that’s me or anyone else,” he added as his supporters shouted slogans near the memorial at Chennai’s iconic Marina Beach.
Sasikala,a long-time confidante of Jayalalithaa, summoned all cabinet ministers to her Poes Garden residence for a meeting shortly after the drama.
AIADMK spokesperson Apsara Reddy rubbished Pannerselvam’s claims and said that he was the chief minister because of the largesse of Amma (Jayalalithaa) and Chinnamma (Sasikala).
“He does not have any MLAs with him and a disgruntled man like him can go. The AIADMK is not poorer by his loss… AIADMK continues to back Sasikala,” she added.
AIADMK legal team chief Durai Murugan, among the first to support the Panneerselvam, said there were many in the party who will go with the chief minister.
Earlier in the day, at least three senior AIADMK leaders sought a probe into the circumstances leading to the death of Jayalaithaa and insinuated that the former chief minister may have been murdered.
The party dismissed them as disgruntled rebels but the raft of charges added to a growing chorus against Sasikala, who is facing a disproportionate assets case in Supreme Court.
Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar too sought a probe into the treatment of her aunt in hospital and her subsequent death. She, like the other rebel AIADMK leaders, dismissed the Apollo doctors’ panel’s clean chit to the treatment, saying the timing of the press conference too was questionable.
Sasikala, whose extended family is known derisively as the “Mannargudi mafia” among AIADMK cadres, was suspended from the party in 2012 by Jayalalithaa. She however, returned, to the AIADMK exactly 100 days later.
‘Spirit of Jaya’
It was Pannerselvam’s allegations which could hurt the party the most as he is the seniormost and most prominent among all AIADMK leaders to have spoken out, though he did not directly say anything against Sasikala.
Panneerselvam – popularly known as OPS – said a few ministers were openly disobeying him and running him down.
“At the Sunday meeting of MLAs, I was forced to tender my resignation… I was not even told the agenda of the meeting before I went there,” he said, referring to the meeting when Sasikala was made the party’s legislative party leader.
“I came to pay respects to Amma. My conscience was hurt. Some truths have to be told to the people of Tamil Nadu. The atma (spirit) of Jayalalithaa asked me to reveal truths to people of Tamil Nadu, which is why I am standing here,” he added.
He added that Jayalalithaa told him to take charge as the chief minister and assistant general secretary Madhusudan should be the general secretary.
“I was asked to save the party and the government, and which is why I took over as chief minister.”
DMK working president MK Stalin demanded action against those who threatened and pressurised Panneerselvam to resign.
“The governor should do what is constitutionally right,” he said and added that Panneerselvam should take steps to form the government.
“Today there is no government in Tamil Nadu, he should call for assembly immediately and should (the AIADMK government) ask to prove the majority.”