O Panneerselvam had always been such a silent man that his boss the feisty J Jayalalithaa made him a stand-by chief minister twice when she had to step down from the top due to corruption cases.
The unflinching loyalty that Panneerselvam professed towards Jayalalithaa earned him a third shot at chief minister’s chair after she died in December 2016, plunging the AIADMK into crisis.
And when he broke his silence for the first time on the sands of Chennai’s Marina Beach on a February night in 2017 launching his ‘dharmayudham’, which is legendary by now, against the V K Sasikala’s family, Panneerselvam was hailed as “saviour” who would “redeem” Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK from the Mannargudi clan.
Between February 2017 and October 2018 – when OPS broke his golden silence yet again — Panneerselvam’s image as an “anti-corruption crusader”, one who would not compromise on his principles and one who would take the Sasikala family head-on – had faltered heavily.
And on Friday, when he admitted to having met Sasikala nephew T T V Dhinakaran in July 2017 in a clandestine manner – Panneerselvam said he did not even inform his close aides about the meeting – even as he was openly abusing the family in public space, his ‘dharmayudham’ came out not just as a cropper but as a sham.
More damning and damaging allegation against Panneerselvam by Dhinakaran was that he sought the latter’s help to destabilise the Palaniswami government. Though Panneerselvam refuted the allegation, his reluctance in addressing the issue at large has come across as a shock for his colleagues who stood by him during the troubled times.
By admitting to meeting Dhinakaran, Panneerselvam has fallen into the former’s trap and finds himself in an intriguing situation especially at a time the government is expecting the verdict in the 18 MLAs disqualification case.
And Dhinakaran may have decided to follow ‘one at a time’ strategy in his pursuit to take control of the AIADMK – his target, for now, seems to be OPS – who will have lot more answering to do on whether he actually approached the rebel to destabilise the very own government which he is part of.
What puts Panneerselvam in a tight spot is his explanation about meeting Dhinakaran — he says he met him to ensure the unity of the party — but does not answer then what forced him to keep his colleagues dark about the meeting.
This raises a question mark on his trustworthiness — he has made so many U-turns ever since the launch of ‘dharmayudham’.
In the 19 months from the famous February Marina rebellion to his admission of having met the very person against whom he raised a banner of revolt, Panneerselvam has played every trick to stay relevant in politics. His ‘dharmayudham’ lost sheen after he failed to wean away the majority of MLAs from Sasikala, who anointed Edappadi K Palaniswami as chief minister before setting out to serve jail term in DA case.
Panneerselvam, who was forced into a re-marriage with Palaniswami camp and entered the latter’s camp as deputy chief minister at the behest of the BJP, has found his base wandering and has been hinting that he should be given control of the party.
He was side-lined within the party and the government by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam could not do a thing about it – he even knocked at the doors of the BJP leaders seeking that they hear him out but in vain.