From the time when the MLAs of the ruling AIADMK “unanimously” voted to replace the departed Chief Minister Jayalalithaa with her long-time partner and companion Sasikala, it was safe to assume that Tamil Nadu’s part-time Governor, Vidyasagar Rao, did not share the enthusiasm put on for public view of the legislators. From the start, he showed his refusal to be stampeded into a quick decision, initially by the simple expedient of not returning to Chennai from his sojourn in Maharashtra, the state of which he is the (hopefully soon full time) Governor. In the meantime, the acting Chief Minister, O. Panneerselvam, had apparently decided that it was a case of “third time lucky” and that this time around, he would not merely warm the Chief Minister’s chair for another individual, but become the state’s chief executive himself for the next four years and more that would elapse before the term of the state Assembly ends. Whether it was support offered by powerful friends in Delhi or the aura surrounding the samadhi of the departed leader of the AIADMK, the acting Chief Minister rose from his meditative sojourn an entirely different man from the meek and compliant individual he had been in two previous incarnations in the job. It needs to be remembered that in both he received the backing of Ms Sasikala, who (like Mr Panneerselvam) comes from the Thevar community, as indeed did many of those working in the Poes Garden residence that was Mrs Sasikala Natarajan’s home for so long, barring two occasions when she was evicted for short periods. Unless Mr Panneerselvam writes his memoirs and the same is a truthful account of the goings on within the AIADMK after Ms Jayalalithaa’s demise, the reason may remain unclear as to the cause of his change of attitude from compliant supporter of Ms Sasikala to her principal rival. Judging by the apparently feeble response to his call for MLAs to desert Sasikala and flock to his standard, the affable OPS has not been able to transfer his undoubted popularity among the people of the state to the legislators belonging to his party. Indeed, the gap between the number of MLAs backing OPS and those remaining with Ms Sasikala and her nominee made it inevitable for Governor Rao to administer the oath of office to the latter, thereby giving Mr Palaniswami an even bigger edge in the battle for power in Tamil Nadu than he already held as the favourite of Ms Sasikala and her clan, which seems well on the way to becoming to the AIADMK what the Karunanidhi family is to the DMK.
Despite the obvious setback to their quest to have Mr Panneerselvam emerge as the successor to Ms Jayalalithaa, a less than impressive showing despite the fact that Mrs Natarajan is now in prison and will be for some time, his supporters still claimed that an overwhelming number of MLAs would support him in the floor test recommended by the Tamil Nadu Governor. That did not prove to be the case, with Mr Palaniswami emerging the winner of the floor test. Should the new Chief Minister act in a manner that results in the legislators going back to the mild-mannered OPS, the wheel may once again have turned in full within a party wracked with uncertainty after the passing away of the supremo. Whatever happens, it is going to be a rough road for the AIADMK, with a newly energised DMK under a capable M.K. Stalin waiting to pounce on the stricken party. The AIADMK drama being witnessed live on television screens is unlikely to conclude anytime soon.