The Big Story: Perils of Palanisamy
Does Tamil Nadu finally have a chief minister? After 10 days of false starts, the governor administered the oath of office to Edappadi Palanisamy on Thursday. He was given 15 days to prove his majority and 30 other ministers were sworn in with him, most of them from the cabinet of former acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had elected him the leader of the legislature party to Tuesday, the day that VK Sasikala, the original contender for the post, was convicted in a disproportionate assets case. The party’s new choice of leader invokes mixed feelings.
Unlike Sasikala, who has no political experience, Palanisamy is an old party hand. The politician with a reputation for being a “soft, smiling man” was public works minister before being elevated to chief minister. He joined the AIADMK in 1982, and after the death of party founder MG Ramachandran, he backed the winning side, namely, J Jayalalithaa. Over the course of three decades, he consolidated his position in the Jayalalithaa coterie, becoming one of the “famous five”, the group of men entrusted with wheeling dealing and implementing the party supremo’s orders.
The bad news is also that Palanisamy is an old party hand, steeped in its culture of sycophancy and blind allegiance to a remote power centre. In his knack for backing the winning side, Palanisamy went with the Sasikala camp, which elected him to power. It is believed that Palanisamy will soon pay a visit to Sasikala, currently in jail in Bangalore. Before his floor test on Saturday, another appointment was also made before Sasikala left for Bangalore: her nephew, TTV Dinakaran, became deputy general secretary of the party. These developments have led to speculation that the new dispensation will be Sasikala by another name.
Going ahead, Palanisamy will have to dispel this notion. One way to do it would be to prove his popularity not just within the party or the House, but also with voters. Simultaneously, he should also maintain continuity with at least some of Panneerselvam’s policies, building on the newfound amity within the legislative assembly, for instance. Tamil Nadu has always run a famously divided house, riven by the bitter rivalry between the AIADMK and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Leaders of the DMK sometimes refused to attend sessions so long as Jayalithaa was in power and when one party was in power, it often suspended legislators from the rival party. Panneerselvam had built bridges, ensuring the smooth functioning of the House, and his successor would do well do follow suit.
Then, of course, there is the business of governing a large and complicated state such as Tamil Nadu. In days to come, Palanisamy will have to prove his mettle as an administrator, not just an able party hand.
The Big Scroll
Sruthisagar Yamunan pens a profile of Palanisamy, once part of the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s “famous five”.
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