Support grew on Sunday for Tamil Nadu’s caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, locked in a bruising feud with All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo V K Sasikala for power, with five more MPs crossing over to his camp.
Four Lok Sabha MPs — Jaisingh Thiyagaraj Natterjee (Tuticorin), Senguttuvan (Vellore), R P Marutharaja (Perambalur) and S Rajendran (Villupuram) met Panneerselvam at his Greenways residence on Sunday morning and pledged support to him, taking the number of MPs backing him in the fight to 10.
Rajya Sabha MP R Lakshmanan also switched over to the Panneerselvam camp, provoking an embattled Sasikala to sack him as the party’s Villupuram (North) district chief.
Amid continued uncertainty over her swearing-in and struggling to keep her flock together as desertion by the MPs went on, Sasikala met AIADMK MLAs housed at a resort on Chennai’s outskirts for the second successive day.
— ‘There must be fresh elections in Tamil Nadu’
Before heading for the resort, Sasikala told journalists outside the PoesGarden residence of her mentor and former chief minister, the late J Jayalalithaa, it was “very difficult” to be a woman in politics.
Sasikala also displayed a copy of a ‘fake letter’ allegedly sent by her to Governor C Vidyasagar Rao threatening to commit suicide if she was not allowed to form the government.
“A fake letter in my name is doing the rounds in social media and a friend brought it to my notice. You (media) should also see it. It is very difficult for a woman to be in politics. Have seen that during Purathchi Thalaivi’s (revolutionary leader, a term fondly used by Jayalalithaa’s supporters to address her) times also, but she overcame it,” Sasikala said.
The AIADMK general secretary said she had seen such a “flutter” earlier happen in AIADMK following the death of its founder the late M G Ramachandran, but Jayalalithaa steered the party tactfully and even ensured it won a successive term in last year’s polls.
“Since then, there have been efforts to split the party. Those who made such efforts then are doing it today also,” she said, in an apparent reference to her nemesis Panneerselvam, who was then a member of the faction led by Janaki, Ramachandran widow. AIADMK was then divided into Janaki and Jayalalithaa factions.
Sasikala claimed she had the support of the party MLAs.
“The MLAs are with me. Today also I am going to meet them. As general secretary, I can tell you that the AIADMK government will certainly continue for the next four-and-a- half years and serve people,” she said.
On the ‘delay’ by Governor Rao in inviting her to form the government and the MPs crossing over to the Panneerselvam camp, she said, “You very well know the reason”.
Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy, who has been batting
for Sasikala to be sworn in as chief minister, injected a new twist to the lingering political drama being played out in the state, saying Governor Rao had to make a decision by Monday or a case “can be filed charging abetment of horse trading”.
“The TN Guv must decide CM issue by tomorrow otherwise a WP (writ petition) under Art 32 of the Constitution can be filed charging abetment of horse trading,” Swamy said on Twitter.
However, the BJP’s state unit sought to distance itself from Swamy, saying he has taken a “different path”.
“I would like to make it clear that it is not the path of Tamil Nadu BJP,” the party’s state president Tamilisai Sounderrrajan said.
“He (Swamy) is a member of the National Executive and his views are not that of the state unit,” Sounderrajan told reporters.
Union Minister and senior state BJP leader Pon Radhakrishnan defended the Governor, saying “This is not a party issue” in which a quick decision can be taken.
“This concerns the fate of Tamil Nadu, so there is no need for any haste,” he added.
Asked about Swamy’s contention that the Governor has to decide on the issue of government formation by tomorrow or else a court case can be filed, Sasikala said, “We will discuss it.”
Earlier, addressing her party’s star campaigners who included actors and singers, Sasikala assured them AIADMK would come out of this crisis with the help of grassroots workers.
“Our party and grassroots level workers are with us. They are the true sense of this movement. Be bold, I am with you,” she told them.
Sounderrajan wondered why AIADMK MLAs supporting V K Sasikala were staying in “one particular place” and the “necessity” for that.
“Why are all (AIADMK) legislators staying in one particular place. What is the necessity for that? (AIADMK) general secretary (Sasikala) goes and meets them. Don’t you think it is against democracy to bring all MLAs under one roof and making them stay in one place?” she asked.
Sounderrajan said when a person who is serving as Chief Minister (Pannerselvam) openly says he was forced to resign, it is the responsibility of the Governor to probe the allegation.
“The Governor’s responsibility is not only to swear in somebody. It is also his responsibility to monitor whether there is a stable government in place or not. My view is Governor will not take any decision in haste,” she said.
While Sasikala has so far succeeded in keeping the flock of AIADMK MLAS with her, some party MPs started deserting her after Pannerselvam’s rebellion.
Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan was the first Parliamentarian to extend support to Panneerselvam. Lok Sabha MPS — P R Sundaram, K Ashok Kumar, V Sathyabama and Vanaroja switched over to his camp on Saturday. Panneerselvam also enjoys support of six AIADMK MLAs.
In the 234-member state assembly, AIADMK has 134 members.