Claims support of 130 MLAs; OPS camp has support of 2 MLAs
Even as the tug-of-war between acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) acting general secretary VK Sasikala continued on Wednesday, state Governor C Vidyasagar Rao remained conspicuous by his absence from the state capital.
On Wednesday, Sasikala ratcheted up the battle for power, busing as many as 130 MLAs to a resort outside the city to prevent Panneerselvam, better known as OPS, from contacting them. She also removed two office-bearers from the party’s IT wing.
AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP V Maithreyan, who was the first to join the OPS camp, said “packing of MLAs” in the bus shows that the Sasikala camp was frightened by the popular support for the chief minister.
“We have the support of the masses and cadres. The MLAs will come to us in the days to come,” he said.
Sources said the governor, on advice from legal experts, is expected to swear in Sasikala only after the Supreme Court (SC) delivers its verdict on the two-decade-old disproportionate assets case in which Sasikala is a co-accused with the late J Jayalalithaa.
With uncertainty clouding Sasikala’s swearing-in, AIADMK MPs, led by Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai, flew to New Delhi on Wednesday evening to meet President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday. Sources said Governor Rao would arrive in Chennai from Mumbai on Thursday afternoon and would meet representatives from both the Sasikala and Panneerselvam camps.
Meanwhile, Panneerselvam said he would set up an inquiry commission headed by a sitting SC judge to probe Jayalalithaa’s death. “It is the duty of the government to dispel the rumours surrounding the death of Amma. The commission will reveal the truth,” he said.
Dismissing Sasikala’s charge that he had a cordial relationship with DMK working president MK Stalin –the son and political heir of Jayalalithaa’s decades-long bête noire M Karunanidhi – he said that there was no such relationship at all. “A look back in history will make it clear,” he said. He also dismissed allegations that the Bharatiya Janata Party was backing him. Last night, BJP national secretary H Raja had tweeted congratulations to OPS, saying “… OPS sir congrats’ and later, ‘The public will rally around OPS”.
Accompanied by several “disgruntled” leaders, including Maithreyan, senior leaders PH Pandian and KP Munnusamy, Panneerselvam said that if the situation demands, he would withdraw his resignation.
“I will prove my support on the floor of the House,” he said, adding that he would meet the Governor when he arrives in the city. So far, he has a mere five MLAs on his side, but his supporters claim that more legislators would vote for him in the Assembly.
Through the day, scores of party leaders and cadres visited OPS’ residence at Greenways Road to extend their support and solidarity.
Sasikala, for her part, remained combative. Earlier in the day, at a meeting at the party headquarters to which 130 MLAs showed up, Sasikala accused Panneerselvam of colluding with arch-rivals DMK.
Referring to the remark by DMK’s Deputy Opposition leader Durai Murugan in the Assembly last week favouring Panneerselvam as chief minister for the rest of the term (till 2021), she said: “Panneerselvam not saying anything on this and his silence showed clearly that he had joined hands with the DMK. His act had also infuriated the ministers and MLAs and they wanted me to replace him.”
She made it clear that neither she nor her party would be cowed down. She said that, for the last 33 years with Amma, she had faced several ups and downs and overcame all those.
Stalin, for his part, denied having any truck with the internal squabbles in the AIADMK. Saying he used to exchange pleasantries with Jayalalithaa, Stalin questioned if that, too, amounted to a similar crime. He said he and Panneerselvam were looking at each other and smiling in the Assembly since it was a part of his party’s “political decency.”
“As Leader of the Opposition, I attended her swearing-in as chief minister last year and greeted her, for which Jayalalithaa had thanked me. Could Sasikala (have) ask(ed) the same question to Jayalalithaa?” he said.
Tamil Nadu Congress president S Thirunavukkarasar accused the BJP government at the Centre of playing a dirty game through the governor by delaying the swearing-in of Sasikala. “The BJP wants to make use of this situation for its development,” he alleged.