The power battle in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam witnessed a new twist on Tuesday after the Supreme Court convicted its general secretary VK Sasikala in an illegal wealth case.
As reported by Scroll.in earlier, the moment news about the conviction was broken by the media, Sasikala went into a huddle with her advisors at the Golden Bay Resorts in Kancheepuram, where legislators supporting her have been locked in for the past six days.
A senior AIADMK official, privy to the discussions, told Scroll.in, that Sasikala “was seething with anger” after the verdict.
She told her supporters that the drama since February 5, when she was elected as legislative party leader, has been orchestrated by the Bharatiya Janata Party in active collusion with acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.
Sasikala apparently said that come what may, it was important to ensure that Panneerselvam did not get away with what he had done to her and the AIADMK.
Panneerselvam had become chief minister after AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, but stepped down from the position on February 5 to allow Sasikala to take over. However, he rebelled against her two days later.
Earlier on Tuesday, Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak Jayakumar went to the resort just before the judgment was pronounced. This led to speculation that he might be proposed as the new chief minister nominee to counter Panneerselvam, who has accused Sasikala of not having any locus standi to lead the party and the government.
However, the AIADMK official said MLAs were in no mood to elect an outsider. They want one among their own to become the next chief minister.
About 20 minutes after the judgment was pronounced, Sasikala brought the MLAs together for a meeting. The official said “a few in the crowd” were “unhappy and unwilling” to take any step and wanted time. However, after a few minutes, Dindigul Sreenivasan, who was appointed as presidium chairman by Sasikala last week, proposed the name of Minister Edapadi K Palanisamy.
It is not clear whether all the MLAs agreed and signed letters of support on the spot. Palanisamy later claimed they did. Palanisamy told the media that a letter staking claim to form the government has been sent to Governor Vidayasagar Rao. The Raj Bhavan has acknowledged the receipt of the letter.
Palanisamy was chosen as he belonged to the powerful Gounder community, who dominate the western region of Tamil Nadu. Forty five of the 135 MLAs in the AIADMK are Gounders. In the last few days, a majority of parliamentarians who moved to Panneerselvam’s faction have been from this community. Therefore, the choice also seems to be a ploy to arrest the exodus of Gounder leaders from Sasikala’s team.
Sasikala is a Thevar, the same community to which Panneerselvam belongs.
But at Panneerselvam’s residence, leaders said they were getting calls that some of the legislators were being coerced to sign letters of support. This forced the MLAs and parliamentarians on Panneerselvam’s side to proceed to the resort to try and rescue the legislators currently inside. Sasikala also removed Panneerselvam from the party after she was convicted by the Supreme Court.
Sasikala’s family members were also present at the resort, where at least 800 policemen and personnel from the Rapid Action Force have been deployed.