CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao is set to reach here on Thursday amid a bitter war between AIADMK General Secretary V.K. Sasikala and acting Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, both of whom claimed majority support in the ruling party.
Maharashtra Governor Rao, who holds additional charge of Tamil Nadu, would be in Chennai on Thursday afternoon
The state was on Wednesday grappling with a contest between seemingly indisputable numbers and a perceived popular mood. VK Sasikala got 128 of the AIADMK's 134 legislators to endorse her as Tamil Nadu's future chief minister, proving how she had been tightening her grip over the party while being Jayalalithaa's shadow in the past few years.
O Panneerselvam or OPS, the meek loyalist who is getting used to his new avatar as mutineer, expressed confidence that many MLAs would flock to him when a floor test is held and reached out to the niece of Jayalalithaa. Till yesterday evening, he had the stated support of four MLAs, excluding himself, in the 234-member House.
The general impression in the state is that Panneerselvam is popular, a perception reinforced by his handling of the jallikattu crisis and reflected in the public criticism of Sasikala by actor Kamal Haasan.
But the whip seems to be in the hand of the Supreme Court, which is expected to deliver the verdict in an assets case next week, probably on Sunday. If the verdict goes against Sasikala, the political scales are expected to tilt against her. A favourable verdict should see her through.
In order to buy time till the legal air is cleared, acting governor Vidyasagar Rao has so far stayed put in Maharashtra, his main charge. Rao is expected to reach Chennai today. Suggestions have also been made that the BJP-led Centre has asked the governor to buy time in an apparent bid to help Panneerselvam in return for a sympathetic stand during the presidential elections.
But Subramanian Swamy lived up to his reputation by laying stress on an inconvenient truth for the BJP: the Constitution must be upheld. Swamy seemed to be suggesting that since Sasikala has a clear majority as of now, she should be sworn in as chief minister.
Actor Haasan, however, seemed to suggest that numbers alone could not be the decisive factor in this case. "Time of dice playing was done with in the Mahabharat. We can't be playing dice and hawking our family wives and lives, in favour of some numbers. We don't trade. We are the people," Haasan, who has been increasingly speaking out, told India Today after a series of cryptic tweets.
The actor said Panneerselvam, now the acting chief minister, was neither a friend nor a foe but pointed out: "Right now, we have a choice. A CM has been sworn in and he has not shown any signs of damage or incompetence. He has been good so far. We don't know what's coming to us...."
In case anyone was wondering why the actor has waded in, a Twitterer explained: "3 key players in the TN issue are an acting CM, acting Governor & acting President of DMK (M.K. Stalin). No wonder Kamal Haasan has a strong opinion on it."
Stalin has become a factor because Sasikala, known as Chinnamma, tested her political skills by accusing Panneerselvam of conspiring with the DMK - something that Jayalalithaa supporters would not brook. "Only when I sensed these dangerous designs I decided to step in as chief minister. Treachery has never won in the AIADMK, nor will it now," Sasikala told the party's MLAs.
Sensing the danger, Panneerselvam said he would become chief minister only with the majority support of AIADMK legislators and not with outside support from the Opposition DMK.
Although Sasikala claimed unflinching support of party MLAs, her managers chose to lodge them in three hotels near the airport after a lawmaker switched camps to be on Panneerselvam's side.
The fact that most of the MLAs are supporting Sasikala for the time being shows the clout she has built up while being a close aide to Jayalalithaa.
The candidature of at least 70 MLAs is said to have been personally cleared by Sasikala who also controls the party's purse strings. The legislators' fear of facing elections without Jayalalithaa is also making them rally around her, sources said.
But across the state, AIADMK cadres have put up banners praising Panneerselvam for defending Tamil self-respect by standing up to Sasikala.
Panneerselvam announced that a judicial inquiry would be set up to probe Jayalalithaa's death, as he sought to put the Sasikala camp on the defensive.