Amidst the power struggle within Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK, the O Panneerselvam camp got a boost on Saturday as education minister M Foi Pandiarajan and two Lok Sabha members, Krishnagiri MP Ashok Kumar and Namakkal MP PR Sundaram, joined him, prompting rival Sasikala to urge governor C Vidyasagar Rao to act immediately.
Pandiarajan, who is the first minister to jump ship, said more MLAs would come to Panneerselvam before the assembly opens, indicating that Sasikala will not be able to prove a majority on the floor of the house.
“I was handpicked by Amma. I have come here to ensure that the AIADMK does not break. Alll MLAs will come. The two leaves symbol will fly high,” he said, addressing Panneerselvam as the AIADMK treasurer at the latter’s residence in Greenways Road.
The minister ruled out the possibility of AIADMK taking the support of opposition DMK or BJP to form the government, in case the OPS camp fell short of majority.
“The spirit of the masses will carry our party through. This trickle will turn into torrent for OPS,” he said.
Pandiarajan also said that with Sasikala, he would have been afraid to face the people. “But now I am free and can face the electorate.”
Welcoming Pandiarajan, Panneerselvam said the moment we have been waiting for has arrived. “Truth will prevail and democracy will win. You will know who all will come here on their own,” he said.
He said he had taken the decision to stop the party from going into the hands of one family—referring to Sasikala and her relatives, who are derisively known by her critics as the ‘Mannargudi mafia’.
Ashok Kumar also assured that other AIADMK members would come over soon.
Pandiarajan had earlier tweeted that he would take the views of voters before deciding the best way to uphold the dignity of Amma’s (Jayalalithaa) memory and the unity of AIADMK.
Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan was one of the first to join the revolting chief minister’s side, which had former assembly speaker P H Pandian and his son Manoj Pandian. Later, AIADMK presidium chairman E Madhusudanan’s entry gave the chief minister’s camp a boost.
The AIADMK has 37 members in the Lok Sabha and is the third largest party in the lower house of Parliament.
Sasikala has urged the govenor to act in the best interests of Tamil Nadu “without wasting time”. In a presser invoking Jayalalithaa, she said, “As long as 1.5 crore supporters are with us, our fort will remain intact. I will safeguard AIADMK. Amma is with us only. She is exposing bad elements in the party.”
Following the death of former chief minister Jayalalithaa in December last year, the party and the government underwent a succession course as per which her long-time aide Sasikala was set to take over power. But this was disrupted by Panneerselvam, who said on Tuesday that he was forced to resign as CM, triggering a power tussle within the party.
The spotlight has shifted to governor C Vidyasagar Rao, whom both the leaders met on Thursday claiming the support of MLAs—Sasikala of 134 MLAs and OPS of 50.
The governor is learnt to be consulting legal and constitutional experts. He also met leader of opposition MK Stalin on Friday night.
According to sources, the governor is likely to wait for the Supreme Court verdict on the disproportionate assets case against Sasikala, which is likely to come early next week, before deciding on her claim to power.
Rao has also asked the chief secretary and director general of police to investigate allegations about around 120 MLAs being held captive at a luxury resort outside Chennai by the Sasikala camp.