O. Panneerselvam at Jayalalithaa’s memorial. (PTI)
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CHENNAI: The silence of the lamb turned into a tiger's roar last night.
Deposed chief minister O. Panneerselvam rose in revolt against V.K. Sasikala and her clan alleging that they had compelled him to step down. He also asserted that he would take back his resignation if the people of the state and AIADMK cadres wanted it.
"I will stand firmly and as a single man to defend and protect the AIADMK and the good name of Amma. The party now needs a good leadership that is acceptable to the cadres and the people," he told reporters after meditating for 40 minutes at Jayalalithaa's memorial on the Marina Beach at 9pm on Tuesday. As he uttered those words, a crowd that had quickly gathered there cried "Long live OPS".
Panneerselvam claimed that he came to the memorial after being prodded by Amma's soul.
The AIADMK and Sasikala went into shock at the revolt by the avowed loyalist, especially after he had surrendered the chief minister's chair without a whimper.
On Tuesday, the same OPS disclosed: "The way I tackled the Vardha cyclone, Chennai's water crisis by getting water from Andhra and the jallikattu protests did not go down well with Sasikala's family. It only irritated them."
Later in the night, Sasikala removed Panneerselvam from the post of party treasurer.
Panneerselvam revealed that he had agreed to become chief minister only at the behest of party functionaries who had beseeched him to take over as Jayalalithaa's health deteriorated.
"They had insisted that the people would accept only me as the CM as I had been identified by Amma to be her substitute twice before. But two of my own ministers and Lok Sabha deputy Speaker Thambidurai, after I had been sworn in with the support of all MLAs, openly demanded that Sasikala take over as chief minister. I suffered all this insult and humiliation in silence, keeping only the interests of the party, the government and the good name of Amma in mind," Panneerselvam declared.
He said that he was not even aware of the purpose of the MLAs' meeting on Sunday and was informed by the ministers and Sasikala's family members that the legislators were about to elect her as chief minister. "I refused to quit, saying there was no such necessity at this stage. They then held my hand and pleaded with me not to create a crisis. I wanted to go to Amma's samadhi before taking a decision but they did not let me. I was forced to quit the chief minister's post. The decision was thrust upon me. I am saying all this because my conscience pricked me," Panneerselvam narrated.
The declaration that he was forced to resign could trigger a constitutional crisis and it remains to be seen how the governor would react. The BJP is keen on courting the AIADMK ahead of the presidential elections. BJP national secretary H. Raja tweeted "OPS, Sir, Congrats" and "the public will rally around OPS".
Some MLAs and ministers were seen at the OPS residence. The majority of MLAs and functionaries may still stay with Sasikala but the popular mood, perceived to have been tilted against her, could now crystallise into a stronger force. How the AIADMK cadres react would be keenly watched today.
DMK working president M.K. Stalin condemned the forced resignation of OPS. Stalin refused to commit if the DMK would extend support to OPS to continue as chief minister. In the 233-member House (one seat is vacant), the AIADMK has 125 members and the DMK 89.