SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME? Dinakaran (centre), Sasikala’s nephew and new AIADMK deputy general secretary, and Palaniswami (extreme left), new chief minister, at Jayalalithaa’s memorial on the Marina beach on Thursday. (PTI)
Chennai, Feb. 16: Tamil Nadu today emerged from weeks of uncertainty and stepped into a season of the unknown as Edappadi K. Palaniswami, the handpicked proxy of V.K. Sasikala, was sworn in as chief minister.
The oath-taking ceremony was a muted affair at the Raj Bhavan, unlike the elaborate event that had been planned for Sasikala at the Madras University auditorium before the Supreme Court's conviction in the wealth case dashed her hopes of becoming chief minister.
The new chief minister, who was asked to prove his majority within 15 days, will face the trust vote on Saturday.
Sasikala's decision to personally choose many of the AIADMK's candidates who eventually became MLAs and play a caste card soon after her conviction was restored and her flock's fear of snap elections have decisively tilted the scales in Palaniswami's favour.
A four-time MLA and a two-time minister, Palaniswami, 62, hails from the influential Gounder community that has 28 MLAs, second only to the 31 MLAs from the Dalit community. He is the first Gounder chief minister of Tamil Nadu. A farmer who later became a textiles businessman, he has been with the AIADMK since the early 1980s.
Although a perception exists that O. Panneerselvam, who had revolted against Sasikala, enjoyed popular support, acting governor Vidyasagar Rao had little option but to invite Palaniswami after he submitted a list that suggested the majority of the MLAs was with him.
Rao invited Palaniswami this morning after accepting his claim that he had the support of 124 MLAs, a slim lead over the majority mark of 117 in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
In the 31-member cabinet that took over today, only two ministers from the previous cabinet were dropped -Panneerselvam and K. Pandiarajan who has allied himself with OPS.
Senior leader K.A. Sengottaiyan was the sole addition to the cabinet. Many of Sasikala's relatives, barring her husband M. Natarajan who is yet to return from Karnataka where his wife is in jail, were present at the swearing-in.
The failure of the OPS camp to take advantage of Sasikala's incarceration and free the MLAs from the resort proved to be the undoing of Panneerselvam's revolt that began on the night of February 7.
"We will prove that Palaniswami does not have enough MLAs as many of them will support us during the trust vote. Even if seven MLAs leave his side, they will be in a minority," Pandiarajan said.
But most MLAs, loath to face another election just six months into their term, may not buy into that confidence. "This government will complete its term. In fact, most of the MLAs with OPS will come back to us. You wait and see," said O.S. Manian, a newly sworn-in minister. He indicated that the cabinet would be expanded after the trust vote.
On his part, an unfazed OPS declared that his fight to restore "Amma's government" would continue and that he would soon tour the state to rally the support of the people. "This is an unconstitutional government formed with the help of MLAs held under duress. We will defeat them in the Assembly and also take the fight to the people," Panneerselvam told supporters outside his residence today.
OPS seemed to be suggesting that he would try to exert pressure on the MLAs through voters in their constituencies.
If Palaniswami wins the trust vote as expected, Panneerselvam's best bet lies in waiting to see whether pulls and pressures from within the government will render it unstable. The role of T.T.V Dinakaran, the nephew Sasikala put in charge of the party a few hours before she left for jail, is another imponderable factor.
The MPs in the OPS camp met the chief election commissioner today and complained that the appointment of Sasikala as interim AIADMK general secretary were invalid and violated the party constitution, as were all appointments and expulsions she carried out and the meetings she presided over. "Freeing the party from the control of Sasikala is the larger battle and this is a step in that direction," Rajya Sabha MP V. Maithryean said.